Chinese Monsters III: Gorgeous Ghouls and Saucy Spooks

As you have seen from the second article in this mini series on Chinese Monsters, not all of them are hostile. Nor are they all fearsome looking or seeming. Some are rather beautiful, and others, quite mischievous.

Gorgeous Ghosts

姑获鸟, Gu Huo Niao

A bird demon that can shed its feathers and turn into a beautiful woman. Her favourite hobby is to snatch children at night. In the old days, children’s laundry had to be taken in before nighttime, to prevent the demon from dotting the clothes with blood, to mark her prey. Gu Huo Niao has graced the pages of classical and modern Chinese literature, and continues to haunt computer games not only from China but South-East Asia.

画皮鬼, Hua Pi Gui

Their name literally mean “painted skin ghost”. They are green in appearance, with big gnashing teeth. They eat humans at night, and wear their victims’ skins by day, and usually appear as very beautiful women. They are believed to be ghosts of women who were horribly wronged during their lives, the essence of whose spirits have remained in the bones for hundreds of years after the corpses had decayed. That is why they look for skins to get round in. The Hua Pi Gui have been immortalised by Pu Songling in Liaozhai, enjoyed many on-screen TV and film adaptations for generations within China, and recently starred in a lead role in the globally released Painted Skin I and II. Hell hath no fury! Artwork by He Xin.

画中仙, Hua Zhong Xian

An immortal who lives in a painting, tied to the painting by the capturing of her image. Sometimes it’s a spirit or ghost in hiding that has possessed the painting. Usually female, she falls for the scholar who stands in front of the painting day and night, besotted by her image. At the end of the story she is often obligated to return to the painting, causing the painting to change. She is a popular literary and cinematic plot device employed in classical as well as modern works.

白骨精, Bai Gu Jing

The White Bone Spirit is really a pile of bones from of an ancient female corpse. She can transform into her original living form, which is beautiful. She is both deadly and wily, and knows the human heart. Bai Gu Jing lives in her cave with her demon minions, and remains one of best loved demons in “Journey to the West”. Various designs of her appearance on film and TV since China’s classic TV dramatization of the novel in the 1980s, are excellent illustrations of the Chinese gothic. More recent adaptations such as the Zhang Jizhong 2011 TV series have treated her with more sympathy by providing her with a harrowing backstory.

Saucy Spooks

黄父鬼, Huáng Fù Gui

Said to be active around Hubei, a shape shifter, appears as mist, beasts or people, likes yellow clothes. He is lecherous, lives on a diet of other ghosts, laughs hideously at those he dislikes, causing death or crippling in the victims. Huang Fu Gui is documented in Shan Hai Jing and texts of the Song Dynasty.

吊靴鬼, Diao Xue Gui

Its name literally means “hanging on boots ghosts”. It likes to follow people around at night and play mischievous pranks behind them. So if you’re walking down a quiet alley at night, and you hear strange noises, or feel a creepy breeze on your neck, you might have a Diao Xue Gui at your heels. If you swing round, you won’t find it. Interestingly, in colloquial Cantonese, the term Diao Xue Gui refers to stalkers.

In the last article in this series, I look at Mythological Creatures.




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