Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Chinese Zombie

on November 26, 2013


It must have been around that time that Papa himself told us another Liao Zhai tale of his own. Papa thought it important that we should learn about Chinese culture, and this particular tale introduced us to the jiang shi, the Chinese version of a zombie.

Supposedly, if a black cat jumps over a corpse, the static electricity from the cat would cause the corpse to sit up, then stand up. Which, of course, begs the question, why don’t you just bury that dreadful corpse quickly instead of laying it there for all black cats all over the world to come and jump over?

stormy night

So the story goes as follows: Three merchants — apart from poor scholars, merchants are the next most common travelers with adventures– were traveling. One very stormy night, they trek through a dark forest and finally see a light. Saved! It’s a country roadside inn. They knock. The innkeeper finally opens the door. The drenched and weary travelers are hungry and tired and beg for food and lodging. The innkeeper says sorry, because of the weather, all the rooms are full, go elsewhere. The merchants beg him, so he finally says, well, there is ONE room left after all, but you see, my wife died yesterday and her coffin is lying in that room. If you don’t mind the coffin, well, you are welcome.

The merchants are so weary that they say, pssh! Corpse? Coffin? no big deal.  At least the older two do. The youngest one feels creepy but keeps his mouth shut. After eating, the older two merchants fall on their bed and snore away. But the youngest can’t seem to be able to sleep. Good for him because soon a black cat jumps over the coffin. I knew it. What else could happen to a coffin that stays in a room, I ask you?

So the youngest merchant watches two bony white hands creep out of the coffin and push up the lid. The dead innkeeper’s wife sits up, removes the lid — I tell you, Chinese zombies are strong, even if they were frail before dying… — then steps out onto the floor. The youngest merchant tries to stay as still as possible. The jiang shi moves toward the sleeping forms. She bends down to try to figure out whether the man is breathing. Obviously he is since he is snoring.  Pffuit! She blows on his face. He stops snoring. She now moves toward the second one. She bends over his face, senses the breathing, pffuit! There goes the second merchant. She goes to the third one, who holds his breath in terror. What? no breath? She tries and tries to detect a breath. Ah, too bad. So she moves away.

jiang shi

The youngest merchant could not hold it any longer. He jumps out of bed, pulls open the window and jumps out. Why, I wonder, since the jiang shi was leaving anyway.

Obviously, this is the ground floor, for he does not sustain any injury, but starts sprinting for dear life. The jiang shi turns around at the sound and rushes to the window. She spots the guy and jumps out too. Now, said Papa, you must know that dead bodies are very stiff. So they cannot run the normal way. They sort of hop in little hops forward in a straight line. (As a medical doctor, I can tell you for sure that hops also need the leg muscles to contract, but hey, I’m not going to contradict Chinese tradition…). But they cannot turn very well, so they slow down and kyuuu, kyuuu, kyuuu rotate themselves as best they can like rusty screws.

So this young chap just runs for his life, now not minding rain or wind any more. The jiang shi hops swiftly behind him. Whenever she is about to grab him with her skeletal fingernails, he turns to the right or the left. So she needs to do the rusty screw thing, kyuuu, kyuuu, kyuuu, by which time, he has the lead again. Eventually, he gets really tired, and needs some rest. What to do? Ah, he spots a huge tree with a great broad trunk! He stands behind and plays hide and seek with the jiang shi. Right? Left? Yoohoo I’m here! Thus they go on for a while. Then, the jiang shi gets smart. You want to stay behind the trunk? Fine, watch this! And she opens her arms wide, and slams them around the trunk. The young man jumps backward, and the sharp fingernails stab themselves into the bark of the tree.

The jiang shi struggles and tries in vain to dislodge her fingers. Just as it seems that she might be able to do so, cocorico! or cockle-doodle-doo! The sun rises, and she collapses with a blood curdling shriek, hanging by the fingernails. The innkeeper appears, looking for his wife. End of story.

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