Chilling Chinese Ghost Stories & Common Themes Within Them

ghostly image of an asian woman

There are many stories about Chinese ghosts. Some of the Chinese ghost stories are about a specific type of ghost that is often categorized whenever a ghost shows up in a haunting.

The Hanged Ghost

The Hanged Ghost (Diaosi Gui) is an antiquated, but popular ghost story told about those who commit suicide and are doomed to an eternity of torment. This type of ghost also includes people who were executed. These tortured souls are doomed to be chained to the places where they either ended their lives or their lives were taken from them.

The Hanged Ghost has the appearance of a living corpse that is like a zombie. The tongue is elongated and so long that is hangs out of the mouth. The tongue is eerily red, creating a morbid and scary appearance. Anyone who passes by this ghostly being and sees it immediately becomes a target as the ghost attempts to convince the person to come with them and introduce them to the afterlife. The ghost encourages the person to follow in their footsteps and hang themself.

A tale about The Hanged Ghost is found in The Chinese Fairy Book by Dr. R. Wilhelm (1921). The story is about a soldier who sought shelter in an abandoned and dilapidated temple one night and witnessed a female ghost come down from the rafters. The ghost doesn't notice him in the shadows and left the temple. Curious, the soldier followed the ghost to a farmhouse. He saw the ghost hanging from the rafters in a bedroom where a young mother and child were. The ghost convinced the mother to hang herself, but the soldier broke through the bedroom window and saved the woman. The ghost screeched and flew out of the house. The soldier talked to the mother, who was confused and didn't understand her own actions.

The soldier took the rope the ghost left behind and started back to the temple, but the ghost was waiting for him on the road. She tried to convince him to give her the rope, but he refused and wrapped it around his arm. The ghost transformed with her long red tongue hanging far out of her mouth. She tried to take her rope from the soldier, but he swiped at the ghost, missed, and gave himself a bloody nose. He flung his blood at the ghost, and she backed away, since ghosts cannot stand human blood. He fended off the ghost until when she vanished. The rope had now become part of his arm, but it didn't faze him. He climbed onto his horse and continued his journey.

Gao Huang Gui Ghost

The Gao Huang Gui ghost is a type of ghost that lives inside the person's body, but it isn't a soulful possession as seen in the Western culture. The ghost is a parasite that consumes the person.

The Gao Huang Gui settles inside the person and lives between the diaphragm and heart. The Gao Huang Gui ghost tortures the possessed person by creating bad, frightening, and at times paranoid thoughts. It often induces a physical illness, along with severe debilitating pain in the abdominal region. It can take things too far and end up killing its victim.

A tale of the Goa Huan Gui comes from the Beijing Digital Museum of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). While the tale is used to explain a term used in TCM, it is a story about the parasitic ghost that creates a medical condition.

In ancient times, a famous TCM practitioner, Huan, was called to the palace when the Emperor Jing Gong became ill. It took the doctor a few days of travel to reach the palace.

One night, the doctor had a dream that was very disturbing. Two young boys were discussing Huan's impending arrival at the palace. They were frightened he would kill them and were trying to find a way to elude him. They finally decided the best place to hide would be in the space between the diaphragm and heart.

They knew the doctor didn't have any medicine or acupuncture treatments that could get rid of them in this area. They were the Gao Huang Gui! Huan arrived at the palace and examined the emperor. Frustrated, he realized the disease that the emperor was suffering from was located in the same place the two boys had discussed. It was the space that the Gao Huang Gui lives, between the diaphragm and the heart. He wasn't able to help the emperor, and the emperor died. After this incident, acupuncturist practitioners referred to any incurable disease as Bing Ru Gao Huang.

Hungry Ghosts

A hungry ghost (È Gui) is a restless spirit. This ghost either had an unfulfilled life or suffered a violent death. Hungry ghosts are greedy spirits that are always seeking more, but they are cursed with very small mouths, making their hunger more torturous. This type of ghost has a very frightening and ugly appearance. It has green skin and breathes fire. Its greed manifests in a bulging stomach that is never full enough. Families burn hell money during the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival, created in an effort to appease these ghosts.

A hungry ghost story comes from the ancient Sanskrit texts known as the Vedas and tells how a man transformed into a hungry ghost.

A woman and her young son were trekking through the desert on their way to Bhadravrata, a holy place, when a soldier approached them. The man was only pretending to be a soldier, so he could take vulnerable people unawares. The greedy thief robbed the woman of everything she had. Not only did he steal her money, but he also took her clothes. This was not enough for him. He stole her little boy's clothes.

The little boy was drinking water from a jar the two had brought with them for the trip, since there was very little water in the desolate wilderness. However, the robber frightened him so much that he stopped drinking the water, too terrified to move. The robber grabbed the water from the boy and drank it all.

He left the two in the desert with no water, no clothes - nothing. The dehydrated child died of thirst and his mother was beside herself with grief. Not wanting to live, she killed herself by jumping into a nearby dry well.

Because he'd killed two innocent people, the robber became a hungry ghost. His mouth closed up until it was no larger than the eye of a needle. His body ballooned into the size of a mountain. Food became plentiful for him, but now he couldn't eat it. He was doomed to be constantly hungry, but unable to satisfy his hunger.

The Painted Skin Ghost

The Hua Pi Gui (Painted Skin Ghost) is believed to be the ghost of a woman who was wronged during her life and now seeks revenge. Her very bones don't decay and are held in form by her anger. With only bones, the spirit must seek a body, or more aptly put, a skin to wear. This parasitic ghost dons the person's skin, but since the skin is decomposing, she must paint the face so it resembles a beautiful woman. This allows the ghost to lure its next victim so it can continue to be among the living and while seeking its revenge against men, especially those who cheat on their wives. This ghost has been featured in several movies and various fables, such as the one about a married man simply known as Mr. Wan.

Mr. Wan. a kind-hearted businessman, bumped into a beautiful woman while walking along a road. She claimed she was homeless. Enamoured of her, he invited her to stay in his home with his not-so-happy-about-it wife and family. He got her settled into his home and everything seemed to be going well. The next day, while walking to town he came upon a monk. The monk looked startled as he stared at Mr. Wan and informed him that he could see that Mr. Wan had been put under a spell of enchantment. He then gave Mr. Wan a dire warning that death was standing on the doorstep of his home.

Terrified, Mr. Wan ran home, only to find the courtyard door locked. Panicked, he tore an opening in the bamboo fencing. Upon entering the garden, he saw through the open window a devilish ghostly figure in his guest bedroom. On the bed was what looked like a human skin that the creature was painting to create a beautiful woman's face.

Mr. Wan fled his home and ran to the monastery to find the monk. After hearing his horror story, the monk gave him a protection talisman in the shape of paintbrush. When the man returned home, he rushed into his bedroom and hung the brush from his door to ward off the painted skin creature. That night while Mr. Wan slept, the Painted Skin ghost wasn't fazed by the magic charm and devoured the man from the inside out. With its new skin, the painted skin ghost painted a beautiful female face over Mr. Wan's and set out to find her next male victim.

Common Themes of Chinese Ghost Stories

The common theme for these and other Chinese ghost stories is the different types of ghosts instead of an individual ghost that's found in Western hauntings. While the ghosts are of individuals, they tend to fall into a specific category of ghosts with certain traits, goals, and habits.

Perhaps categorizing people as possessed by various ghost types was a way to explain strange behavior that in today's world might be diagnosed as a physical or mental illness. Whatever the reason, these hundreds of ghost types fill the history of the Chinese culture.

Sleepless Nights With Chinese Ghost Stories

The deceptive nature of Chinese ghosts depicted in various stories makes them even more gruesome. The unsuspecting victims have no clue what is happening to them until it is far too late.

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Chilling Chinese Ghost Stories & Common Themes Within Them