List of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore

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The following is a list of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore and fiction, originating from traditional folk culture as well as contemporary literature such as Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. This list contains only common supernatural beings who are inherently "evil" in nature, such as ghosts and demons, and beings who are lesser than deities. There are also ghosts with other characteristics. They are classified in some Chinese Buddhist texts.[1][2][3]

Ba jiao gui[edit]

Ba jiao gui (Chinese: 芭蕉鬼; pinyin: bā jiāo guǐ; literally: "banana ghost") is a female ghost which dwells in a banana tree and appears wailing under the tree at night, sometimes carrying a baby. In some folk tales from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, greedy people ask for lottery numbers from the ghost in the hope of winning money. They tie a red string around the tree trunk and stick sharp needles in it and then tie the other end of the string to their beds. At night, the ghost appears and begs the person to set her free, and in return, she will give him a set of winning numbers. If the person does not fulfil his/her promise to set the ghost free after winning, he/she will meet with a horrible death. This ghost is often likened to the Pontianak in Malay folklore.

Di fu ling[edit]

Di fu ling (traditional Chinese: 地縛靈; simplified Chinese: 地缚灵; pinyin: dì fù líng; literally: "Earth-bound spirit") refers to ghosts who are bound to certain locations on Earth, such as their place of burial or a place they had a strong attachment to in life.

Diao si gui[edit]

Diao si gui (Chinese: 吊死鬼; pinyin: diào sǐ guǐ; literally: "hanged ghost") are the ghosts of people who died from being hanged due to various reasons (e.g. execution, suicide, accident etc.). They are usually depicted with long red tongues sticking out of their mouths.

E gui[edit]

E gui (traditional Chinese: 餓鬼; simplified Chinese: 饿鬼; pinyin: è guǐ; literally: "hungry ghost") refer to ghosts which appear during the Ghost Festival. They are believed to be the spirits of people who committed sins out of greed when they were alive, and have been condemned to suffer in hunger after death. The e gui has a mouth which is too small for ingesting food and is covered with green or grey skin, sometimes with a potbelly. The ghost suffers from insatiable hunger. It haunts the streets and kitchens, searching for offerings and decomposed food. These hungry ghosts consume anything, including excreted waste and rotten flesh. There are various types; some have fire-breathing abilities while others suffer from anorexia.

Gui po[edit]

Gui po (Chinese: 鬼婆; pinyin: guǐ pó; literally: "old woman ghost") is a ghost which takes the form of a kind and friendly old woman. They may be the spirits of amahs who used to work as servants in rich families. They return to help their masters with housekeeping matters or to take care of young children and babies. However, there are also evil gui pos with hideous and hostile appearances like the witches in fairy tales.

Heibai Wuchang[edit]

The Heibai Wuchang (traditional Chinese: 黑白無常; simplified Chinese: 黑白无常; pinyin: hēibái wúcháng; Wade–Giles: hei-pai wu-ch'ang; literally: "black and white impermanence") are also known as the 'Black and White Guards of Impermanence'. Like the niu tou ma mian, they are in charge of bringing the spirits of the dead to the Underworld. The Black Guard and the White Guard are in charge of evil and good spirits respectively. In some tales, they appear during the Ghost Festival and reward the good by granting them pieces of gold. There are statues of them in some Chinese temples, where they are worshipped, and they are usually depicted with ferocious snarls on their faces and long red tongues sticking out of their mouths to scare away evil spirits.


Jian (Chinese: ; pinyin: jiàn; Wade–Giles: chien) refers to the "ghost" of a ghost. A story in volume 5 of Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio contained the following line: "A person becomes a ghost after death, a ghost becomes a jian after death."[4][5]


Main article: Jiangshi

The jiangshi (traditional Chinese: 殭屍; simplified Chinese: 僵屍; pinyin: jiāngshī; Wade–Giles: chiang-shih; literally: "stiff corpse") is also known as the "Chinese vampire" even though it behaves more like a zombie rather than a vampire (in Western cultures). They are reanimated corpses which move by hopping around and they kill living beings to absorb their yang energy.

Niu tou ma mian[edit]

The niu tou ma mian (traditional Chinese: 牛頭馬面; simplified Chinese: 牛头马面; pinyin: niú tóu mǎ miàn; Wade–Giles: niu t'ou ma mien; literally: "ox head and horse face") are the guards of the Underworld. They have the heads of an ox and a horse but the bodies of men, hence their names. Like the Heibai Wuchang, they are in charge of escorting the spirits of the dead to the Underworld. They are usually depicted as armed with pitchforks and carrying metal chains to bind spirits. The idea of the niu tou ma mian originated from the Song Dynasty tale Transmission of the Lamp.

Nü gui[edit]

Nü gui (Chinese: 女鬼; pinyin: nǚ guǐ; literally: "female ghost") is a vengeful female ghost with long hair in a white dress. In folklore, this ghost is the spirit of a woman who committed suicide while wearing a red dress. Usually, she met with some injustice when she was alive, such as being wronged or sexually abused. She returns to take her revenge. A tabloid story tells of a funeral ceremony where family members of a murder victim dress her in red, hoping that her spirit will return to take revenge on her murderer. In traditional folklore, the colour red symbolises anger and vengeance in the context of ghosts. On the other hand, some ancient folk tales tell of beautiful female ghosts who seduce men and suck their yang essence or sometimes kill them. This type of female ghost is likened to the Succubus. Paradoxically, the male counterpart of a nü gui, a nan gui (Chinese: 男鬼; pinyin: nán guǐ; literally: "male ghost"), is rarely depicted.

Shui gui[edit]

Shui gui (Chinese: 水鬼; pinyin: shuǐ guǐ; literally: "water ghost") are the spirits of people who drowned. They lurk in the place where they died, and drag unsuspecting victims underwater and drown them in order to take possession of their bodies. This process is known as ti shen (Chinese: 替身; pinyin: tì shēn; literally: "replace the body"), as the spirit will return to the world of the living in the victim's body while the victim's soul will take the former shui gui's place and constantly seek to seize possession of another living person's body.

Wutou gui[edit]

Wutou gui (traditional Chinese: 無頭鬼; simplified Chinese: 无头鬼; pinyin: wútóu guǐ; literally: "headless ghost") are headless ghosts who roam about aimlessly. They are the spirits of people who were killed by decapitation due to various causes (e.g. execution, accident etc.). In some tales, the wutou gui will approach a person at night and ask the person where his/her head is. The wutou gui is sometimes depicted as carrying his/her head on the side.

You hun ye gui[edit]

You hun ye gui (Chinese: 游魂野鬼; pinyin: yóu hún yě guǐ; literally: "wandering souls and wild ghosts") refer to the wandering spirits of the dead. They roam the world of the living in the Seventh Lunar Month (typically around August in the Gregorian calendar) during the Ghost Festival. These spirits include: vengeful ghosts seeking revenge on those who had offended them; hungry ghosts (see the #E gui section above); playful spirits who may cause trouble during that period.

Some of these spirits have no living relatives or have no resting place, while others may lose their way and are unable to return to the Underworld in time so they continue to roam the world of the living after the Seventh Lunar Month. In Taiwan, there are shrines and temples set up for the worship of "You Ying Gong" (traditional Chinese: 有應公; simplified Chinese: 有应公; pinyin: Yǒu Yìng Gōng), a name which collectively refers to such "lost" spirits, in the hope that these spirits would not cause harm to the living.[6] There are classified by some scholars from various universities in Taiwan.[7][8][9][10][11] Some of these spirits may become deities known as "Wang Ye" (traditional Chinese: 王爺; simplified Chinese: 王爷; pinyin: Wáng yé; literally: "royal lord").

The Chinese idiom gu hun ye gui (Chinese: 孤魂野鬼; pinyin: gū hún yě guǐ; literally: "lonely souls and wild ghosts"), which describes such spirits, is also used to refer to homeless people or those who wander around aimlessly.

Yuan gui[edit]

Yuan gui (Chinese: 冤鬼; pinyin: yuān guǐ; literally: "ghost with grievance") are the spirits of persons who have died wrongful deaths. The idea of such ghosts had appeared in China as early as the Zhou Dynasty, and were recorded in the classic text Zuo Zhuan.[12] These ghosts can neither rest in peace nor go to the Underworld for reincarnation. They roam the world of the living as depressed and restless spirits who constantly seek to have their grievances redressed. In some tales, these ghosts will approach a living person and attempt to communicate with the person in order to lead the person to clues or pieces of evidence which will point out that they had died wrongful deaths. The living person will then help them clear their names or otherwise ensure that justice is done.

Ying ling[edit]

See also: Mizuko kuyō and Toyol

Ying ling (traditional Chinese: 嬰靈; simplified Chinese: 婴灵; pinyin: yīng líng; literally: "infant spirit") refer to the spirits of dead foetuses. The idea of such spirits are purported to have originated in Japan.[13][14][15] Memorial services are held for them in Taiwan.[16][17] A writer identified as "Zui Gongzi" (醉公子) wrote an article on in 2004, claiming that the stories of ying ling were fabricated.[18]

Zhi ren[edit]

Zhi ren (traditional Chinese: 紙人; simplified Chinese: 纸人; pinyin: zhǐ rén; literally: "paper person") are dolls made from paper which are burnt as offerings to the dead to become the deceased's servants. These dolls usually come in pairs - one male and one female - and are sometimes called jin tong yu nü (Chinese: 金童玉女; pinyin: jīn tóng yù nǚ; literally: "golden boy and jade girl"). These dolls are not exactly spirits by themselves, but they can do the bidding of their deceased masters.

Zhong yin shen[edit]

Main article: Bardo

Zhong yin shen (traditional Chinese: 中陰身; simplified Chinese: 中阴身; pinyin: zhōng yīn shēn; literally: "intermediate yin body") refers to a spirit in a transition state between his/her death and when he/she goes for reincarnation, as described in Mahayana Buddhism. This period of time is usually 49 days.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Chinese) The novel Zhan Gui Zhuan (斬鬼傳; Story of Slaying Demons) by the Qing Dynasty writer Liu Zhang (劉璋) on Chinese Wikisource
  2. ^ 徐祖祥 (Xu Zuxiang) (25 December 2009). "论瑶族道教的教派及其特点 (Discussion on the various sects of Taoism followed by the Yao people and the sects' characteristics)" (in Chinese). 中国瑶族网 (China Yao People Website). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "大正新脩大藏經 第二十一冊 (Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 21)" (in Chinese). 中華電子佛典協會 (Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Pu Songling. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (in Chinese) 5. 人死為鬼,鬼死為魙 [A person becomes a ghost after death, a ghost becomes a jian after death.] 
  5. ^ "子不語 第三卷 (Zi Bu Yu. Vol. 3.)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "台灣民俗故事:「有應公」信仰的由來 (Taiwanese folk stories: The origins of the worship of You Ying Gong)" (in Chinese). 保西風情 (Bao Xi Feng Qing). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  7. ^ 蓬山冥府話滄桑,見證先民血淚的鬼厲信仰 (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  8. ^ 許献平 (Hsien-ping Hsu) (23 July 2007). "台南縣北門區有應公信仰研究 (Research on the worship of You Ying Gong in Beimen District, Tainan County)" (in Chinese). 國立中山大學學位論文全文系統 (National Sun Yat-sen University Electronic Theses & Dissertations). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  9. ^ 楊淑玲 (Shu-ling Yang) (12 July 2006). "台南地區姑娘媽信仰與傳說之研究 (The research of Gu Niang, Ma belief and fables in Tainan area)" (in Chinese). 國立成功大學學位論文全文系統 (National Cheng Kung University Electronic Theses & Dissertations). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  10. ^ 吳依萱 (Wu Yixuan) (1 December 2009). "《孤魂與鬼雄的世界:北臺灣的厲鬼信仰》 (The world of wandering spirits and ghosts: Beliefs of ghosts in northern Taiwan)" (in Chinese). 98th Edition, E-Paper, College of Hakka Studies, National Central University. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "台灣的厲鬼信仰 — 姑娘廟與冥婚 (Beliefs of ghosts in Taiwan - Gu Niang Temple and Ghost Wedding)". Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Kong Zhiming (孔志明) (1998). "左傳中的厲鬼問題及其日後之演變 (The ideas of vengeful spirits in the Zuo Zhuan and later developments)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  13. ^ 玄道子 (Xuandaozi). "嬰靈之祕???(十一)----十、誰是嬰靈的護佑師??? (The mystery of ying ling. Who are the guardians of ying ling?)" (in Chinese). 台灣法律網 (Taiwan Law Website). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  14. ^ 李玉珍 (Li Yuzhen) (March 1995). "評William R. LaFleur, Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan (Commentary on William R. LaFleur, Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan)". 新史學 第六卷第一期 (New history studies. Vol. 6, 1st Edition) (in Chinese). Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University. pp. 225–229. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  15. ^ 塚原久美 (Tsukahara Kumi) (27 June 2004). "ポスト・アボーション・シンドローム(PAS)論争に見る複数の中絶物語の可能性". 字看護大学 (Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing) (in Japanese). 日本赤十字看護大学 (Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing). 
  16. ^ 台湾社会における「嬰霊」と「小鬼」信仰 (in Japanese). Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  17. ^ "宗教と倫理 第3号 (Religion and Ethics Vol. 3)" (in Japanese). 宗教倫理学会 (Japan Association of Religion and Ethics). December 2003. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  18. ^ 醉公子 (Zui Gongzi) (20 April 2004). "『嬰靈』說根本是捏造的 (The stories of ying ling were fabricated)" (in Chinese). [星客] Retrieved 4 March 2013.