arrow arrow2close-buttonemail facebookinstagrampinterestpostize-logo-letter quotesearch twitteryoutube

Creepy Chinese Myths and Legends

Creepy Chinese Myths and Legends

Chinese people and their history are extremely rich in culture. As well, their history is detailed and fascinating. It's not unheard of that they have myths, legends, and plenty of their version of old wives tails. In fact, some might say they're pretty well known for being superstitious. 

As with other similar parallels, the Chinese people are not without their very own urban legends. However, where western civilization's urban legends are often watered down and alter significantly depending on what area of what country you hear the tall tale in, Chinese myths and legends are detailed. When I say detailed I mean they dig deep into their rich culture and vast history and rather than a creepy guy in the woods with a hook they entail horrifying tales of demons, ghosts, and the evilest of creatures desperate to steal your very soul.

Read on and learn just how deep and dark their mythology and folklore can go. 


1. Ox-Head and Horse-Face


As the legend goes, Ox-Head and Horse-Face are the guardians of the underworld, Diyu. 

As a deceased person enters Diyu, the first entities they will encounter are Ox-Head and Horse-Face. The two are mostly human with entirely human bodies with of course as I'm sure you suspected by now, an Ox's head and a Horse's head on top of their human bodies. 

Essentially, these two are the escorts as a person's freshly dead soul makes their way to the Hall of Retribution to be judged and punished for their worldly sins. 

Imagine dying and the first thing you see are these two creepy dudes.

2. The Black and White Guards of Impermanence


Additional aids to the Underworld, The Black and White Guard of Impermanence escort souls down to Diyu before Ox-Head and Horse-Face take over. For the most part, the Black guard escorts evil souls and the White guard escorts good souls but they both have long, red tongues that are supposed to ward off demons. 

Before they became the escorts to the Underworld, these guards lived a life of normal police officers who just so happened to be fiercely loyal to each other. In fact, it was their loyalty to the death that got them their revered positions as escorts in the after life:

Once, during a storm, they split up trying to catch a criminal and agreed to meet under a bridge after they had each searched half the town. The first to arrive found that his partner was not yet at their meeting spot, and even though the water was rising and the river was becoming dangerous, he waited, because he knew the other one would show up. He did eventually arrive, but it was too late: the other officer had been swept away by the flood and drowned. Believing his lateness to be the cause of his friend's death, the second officer threw himself into the raging water and drowned himself.

3. A Jealous Wife Keeps a Terrible Secret


Gen Bao is still known as one of the first Chinese writers to record supernatural tales and folklore. Assumed to live roughly between 315 and 336 AD he is most notable for his work Records of an Inquest into the Spirit-Realm, which is filled to the brim with eerie ghost stories. 

Of course it's not just his creepy ghost stories that send chills down our spines, it's the inspiration in which he drew from, a real-life ghost story of his own:

When Gan Bao's father died, his mother secretly buried a maid with whom her husband was having an affair alive in his tomb, sealing the two together forever, and, she thought, conscripting the maid to death. The family knew nothing of her plot.

Years later, when Gan Bao's mother died, they opened up the tomb to lay her to rest next to her husband. What they found was the maid, weakened but very much alive. She said that the ghost of Gan Bao's father had brought her food and water for ten years, keeping her alive until she was freed. 


4. The Painted Demon That Destroyed Both Husband and Wife


The Painted Skin is a cautionary tale about desire and misplaced loyalty that uses supernatural means to depict judgement and consequences. Originally, it was written by Pu Songling as a short story and was published in 1740 with a collection of his work, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

The story centers around a man who chooses to bring home a woman he met on the streets. The woman tells him a harrowing tale about being homeless because she recently escaped an abusive family and he decides to hide her from his wife by confining her to the library where he proceeds to have an affair with her. 

The man is warned by a priest that there is evil in his home and upon returning he peers through a window and sees the Devil painting the woman's skin and bringing her to life. The man gets his consequences issued first when eventually the woman kills him by ripping his heart right out of his chest. 

However, his wife became desperate to resurrect him and begged a street preacher for help. The street preacher beats her, demeans her, and spits in her mouth before telling her to swallow his spit, and that she must if she wants to resurrect her husband. Feeling ashamed, she swallows the spit and then goes home to prepare her husband's corpse for burial. 

But as she attempts to close the wound on his chest she coughs up a human heart. She places the heart in the empty spot in his chest and sews him up. The next morning he is alive. 

The author, Songling's intention is to pass judgement on both the husband for cheating on his wife and the wife for debasing herself for a man who was not faithful to her.

5. The Jiangshi


Today's typical vampire is nothing like the horror lore of year's past. To put it bluntly, today's vampire is a hyper-sexualized object of desire. There's not much horror left in the weary underworld of Vampires it would seem but there is a solution yet.

The Chinese version of vampires, also known as The Jiangshi, combines the horror of the vampire with the terror of a zombie and the all encompassing creep factor is everything you're seeking in tales that will keep you up night. In fact, the Chinese word "jiangshi" translates directly to "hard" or "stiff" in English so that falls pretty well into the zombie lore, too, if you think about it. 

To put it bluntly, the Jiangshi are freshly deceased corpses that suck blood to survive. They turn into Jiangshi after death just as their bodies are settling into rigor mortis. When a Jiangshi awakens, it's joints are stiffened and it has to hop from place to place with its arms outstretched for balance.

The legend of the Jiangshi goes all the way back to the 18th century and legend tells that many things can cause a corpse to turn into a Jiangshi from suicide to magic or even an improper burial. True to vampire lore, it is possible to repel them. To repel the Jiangshi you need: wood from a peach tree, a hoof from a black donkey, a rooster's call, or a mirror.

The origin of the Jiangshi tale is not as creepy, though:

These stories arose from the way the corpses of migratory workers were transported back to their homes during the Qing Dynasty. The bodies were essentially forced upright and carried on a man's back, which made it look like the corpse was bouncing. Because it was such a depressing and gruesome sight, they were transported at night, and the myth of the jiangshi was born.

6. Yaoguai


Yaoguai are demons seeking immortality and in order to achieve it they trick humans into giving them their souls. Tales of the Yaoguai can be found as far back as 1592 AD and it's not just the soul stealing aspect alone that will freak you out, it's how they achieve their goal. 

Yaoguai are shape-shifters who transform into whatever form or figure that will make you the most possible vulnerable so that they can "play you like a violin." 

Lore of your deep-down desires coming back to haunt you or consume your soul is a concept found in most cultures and religions but the Yaoguai are by far one of the most frightening to think about. 

7. The Yuan Gui

via:Chinese Underground

The tales of these restless, wandering ghosts go back to he Zhou Dynasty, which reigned over China from 1600 to 1046 BC. Believed to have been wronged in life, they wander, desperate to find an end to their pain and misery. Their depression motivates them to wander the world until they find someone to help them. They cannot rest until they get justice for whatever is the cause of their torment.

8. The Shui Gui


The Shui Gui are vengeful ghosts of those who died drowning. The ghosts "lurk" in the same place they died and they wait for an unsuspecting victim to swim close by. Once they find their victim they promptly drown them and in turn they, too, become Shui Gui and the cycle continues on for all eternity. 

So anyway, if you're afraid of drowning it's probably a good idea not to go for leisurely swims in China. 

9. The Hungry Ghosts

via:Whispering Darkness

Doomed to waste away in the underworld, hungry but never able to consume food.... that is the terrifying tale of the Hungry Ghosts. The Hungry Ghosts take on their form because of their selfish, cruel behavior in life. Their deathly, haunting forms are defined by their long, skinny necks and huge, distended bellies. Their appearance is meant to mean they are always starving.

Chinese lore says that one day comes up once a year, in the middle of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, and it is the only day of the entire year the ghosts can eat. So, there is a huge festival, the Hungry Ghost Festival, where food offerings are prepared and the living try to appease the suffering ghosts.

10. Diyu, Chinese Hell

via:List Verse

The Chinese equivalent of our common perception or idea of Hell is Diyu. Diyu is the first stop on an afterlife journey. In Diyu they are judged and then punishment is dished out. What makes Diyu unique compared to other cultures is that Diyu is not a permanent, ever lasting stop. In fact, the time they spend there depends solely on how much they sinned in life. 

If you were a relatively good person in life, you won't have to spend much time in Diyu before being freed and reincarnated. But if you weren't? You're in for a long, painful journey. Because in Diyu, you can feel pain, but you can't die. And whatever damage inflicted upon your body after a round of torture is erased before the start of the next round, ensuring that you feel every whip, cut, burn, and disembowelment.

11. The Ba Jiao Gui


The ghost every gambler fears... yet they bring the curse upon themselves

Desperate for a lottery win, people can summon these ghosts by tying one end of a red string to a banana tree and the other end to their bed. The ba jiao gui will give the person who called them the winning lottery numbers, but if they fail to set the ghost free, they'll die before they can spend any of their winnings.

12. Da Ji


If you look into it, you'll find two stories of Da Ji. The historical story of Da Ji, the wife of King Zhou, the last ruler of the Shang Dynasty; and the mythological tale of Da Ji.

The historical rendition of Da Ji is not without its horror. She was an evil woman who, along with her husband, was sexually aroused by seeing people tortured. Da Ji even invented her own torture device: the paolao, which was a bronze cylinder to which victims were strapped which was then heated up with hot coals, resulting in a long, painful death as the victims were slowly cooked. Da Ji was eventually sentenced to death after the people successfully overtook the government and ended the Shang Dynasty. 

What could be better than that? Well the myth, of course. 

In Investiture of the Gods, a 16th-century Chinese novel full of tales about Chinese mythology written by Fengshen Yanyi, Da Ji is a fox spirit that is able to take a human form after years of work. She was summoned by the goddess Nu Wa to corrupt King Zhou because he disrespected her in her own temple. If she managed to get the King's people to overthrow him, Nu Wa promised Da Ji immortality.

Da Ji did manage to get the King's subjects to overthrow him, but Nu Wa did not give Da Ji immortality. Instead, she had her killed, because Da Ji had gone to such extreme lengths in completing her task that even Nu Wa, who wanted Da Ji to instigate a coup, was like, "Nah, this lady is too crazy."

Chinese folklore can be terrifying. But that's the stuff of myth, legend, and stories in old books. What's more terrifying would be these creepy and unexplainable surveillance footage recorded by real people. How do you explain these?