Vampires are in nearly EVERY culture. From the Asanbosom/Sasabosom of Africa to the Strigoi of Romania to the glittery dimwits of American vampire culture, you can find them almost anywhere. One of the favorites in my household is the Jiangshi/Geungsi of China and Hong Kong.
Considerably different than the standard sexy and sensual bloodsuckers or the feral rippers, these monsters are almost zombie-like in their behavior. No, I don’t mean the Romero zombies, I’m talking voodoo zombies.
In English, these are often called “Chinese Hopping Vampires” but since Cantonese is spoken in my home, they are simply Geungsi to us. That is the term I will use throughout.
These vampires, unlike the ones in movies, aren’t created from a bite necessarily. They are usually made from magic. Their purpose for creation has good intentions, the idea simply being to move the bodies of the deceased in a thrifty manner.
There are so many ways a spirit can become angry and vengeful in Chinese culture (including dying in a certain color and not breathing their last breath) and not being buried in your hometown is one of them. If someone dies away from home, the family, for the sake of their loved one’s spirit, hires a Taoist priest to assist.
The man will attach a written spell (talisman) to the face of the dead, which will resurrect the body to do their bidding. Due to rigor mortis, the bodies are stiff and must hop at the pace of a blessed bell following the priest until their destination is reached.
The problem arises if the talisman falls off of the face of the dead. Were that to happen, the dead would become sentient and wreck havoc and attack the living for their hei (life essence or chi as most know it) or their blood. The legend’s origin most likely resides in how the dead were transported during the Qing Dynasty.
Most images of the Geungsi are in traditional Qing Dynasty dressing. Back then, to move corpses old and new to their homes, they would be stood in an upright position with flexible bamboo tied on either side. A man in front and back would then walk with the corpses, causing them to bounce or “hop.”
There would be one more man in front leading with a lantern (they were always moved at night) to keep an eye out for obstacles. Like the old way of moving bodies, in the case of the Geungsi, the Taoist priest would move several at once, always at night and ringing a bell to alert villages of his presence.
Another possible origin is the spreading of the legend by smugglers looking to cover up their activities at night.
Living eyes weren’t meant to be laid on the Geungsi. Like the Western vampire, Geungsi cannot enter your home but not for the same reason. While they can hop, they can’t hop high enough to get over the threshold of a home, effectively making the home safer from only the weaker vampires.
If a person is bitten by an out of control Geungsi, that person, over time, will become one themselves. There is a short window of time, though, when glutenous rice can be pressed into the wound to draw out the virus that will turn the afflicted.
This legend spawned one of the biggest movie franchises in 1985 Hong Kong and beyond. Mr. Vampire is an insanely successful movie franchise spawning sequels and toys from Japan to Taiwan. The Mr. Vampire movies focus more on the virus aspect of creating Geungsi.
The best of Hong Kong horror comes in the form of horror comedy. With movies like Ricky Lau’s Mr. Vampire and Stephen Chow’s Out of the Dark (I highly recommend this one by the way), they seem to give American and British horror comedies a run for their money.
Mr. Vampire follows Kau (nicknamed Uncle Nine), a Taoist priest, hired to help a family with bad luck. When it seems a improper burial caused the issue, Kau and his dumb bunny assistants are on the case…except they make things worse.
In 2013, a supernatural movie called Rigor Mortis was released that reinvented the vampire movies of the past. This movie is GORGEOUS. It’s dark, its effects are amazing, the shots are beautiful and the story is…confusing.
It could simply be that I don’t understand it completely because I’m not Chinese. Not growing up with those legends, the inside jokes and lingo, and the not-exact translation from Cantonese to English can all affect the understanding one gets of a movie, especially one that deals with a particular cultural superstition.
Rigor Mortis follows a man who lives in a public housing building. This building is home to all sorts of things spooky including ghosts and a very scary Geungsi. Not looking like the Geungsis of legend, this one is massive, intimidating and comes with accessories.
The best part about Rigor Mortis? It was a reunion of many of the cast members from all of the Geungsi movies of Hong Kong’s past.
This is only a fraction of the information about the Geungsi. There are not only multiple ways one can become a Geungsi, but there are also many ways to kill them. I highly recommend looking farther into the legend of the Geungsi and all types of cryptids and creatures from around the globe.
Learning about a country’s myths and legends can teach a lot about the culture and the people. So take some time, learn a little and creep yourself out. Just watch out for the Japanese toilet ghosts.
Check out this video for some more insight into the different levels of Geungsi and how to defeat them. Also, you only have about a week left to vote in the iHorror awards! Make like a Geungsi and “hop” to it…get it? See what I did there?
(Features image courtesy of youtube.com)