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Top 10 Terrifying Chinese Legends

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut

With a long history comes some rather scary myths. For this list, we’re looking at the most bone-chilling fables from China, from Diyu, to Gan Bao’s Buried Maid & Yuan Gui. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Terrifying Chinese Legends.

Special thanks to our user Jorge Alán for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Chinese+Legends.

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Script written by Mark Sammut

Top 10 Terrifying Chinese Legends



With a long history comes some rather scary myths. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Terrifying Chinese Legends.

For this list, we’re looking at the most bone-chilling fables from China. As the focus here will be on older legends, any modern myths will be ignored.

#10: Chinese Hell (Diyu)



Think of Diyu sort of like Dante's Inferno, but with more creative torture mechanisms. The first stop after someone kicks the bucket, Diyu is a sort of purgatory that dishes out punishment for the sins committed during one's life. The myth varies depending on the source, but the general idea is that sinners are sent to one of 18 hells for a good old-fashioned dose of karma. For example, an arsonist would be bound to columns of burning copper, while those who kill using knives are forced to climb a hill made of blades.

#9: Gan Bao’s Buried Maid



A historian and prominent writer during the Jin Dynasty, Gan Bao is best known for a collection of short stories dealing with the supernatural. Legend states that Bao's fascination with spirits stemmed from a strange personal encounter. When the writer's father passed away, Bao's mother secretly buried her husband's mistress in the same grave. Unfortunately… the maid happened to still be alive. Fast forward a number of years, and Bao opens up the grave to bury his mother, but finds the maid still living. Apparently, the father's ghost protected the woman by sharing any food and drinks left as family offerings.

#8: Yuan Gui



Reincarnation is a big deal in Buddhism, but unresolved issues may put the kibosh on a new life. After dying a wrongful death, a Yuan Gui roams the mortal world seeking out means to set the story straight. Luckily, these ghosts cannot be seen by ordinary folks, but that doesn’t stop the spirits from contacting unsuspecting people by leaving clues pointing toward their innocence. They operate in a fashion not dissimilar to that of the Riddler, only they’re undead rather than a supervillain. If justice is served, however, a Yuan Gui is finally able to rest in peace.

#7: Ox-Head & Horse Face


Directly tied to the Diyu myth, these two beings guard the gates to the Underworld and greet the recently departed. Depending on whether a person led a good or evil existence, a spirit is escorted to Diyu by either the White or Black Guard of Impermanence, who together serve as China's grim reapers. Once at the gates of Hell, Ox-Head and Horse-Face take over and direct the spirits to King Yama's court for judgment. As implied by their titles, the Underworld's gatekeepers have the bodies of men but the heads of animals.

#6: The Hungry Ghosts


Unlike traditional spirits which disappear after a while, hungry ghosts are driven by an unquenchable thirst for emotional satisfaction, and therefore cannot find peace. Serving as a cautionary tale against refusing to help your fellow man, most myths paint hungry ghosts as a punishment for greedy people who refuse to share food with those in need. Falling in the middle of summer, the Hungry Ghost Festival coincides with a one-month period when these spirits are allowed to leave Hell, so families present offerings of food and drink to appease their ancestors.

#5: Nü gui


When asked to visualize the prototypical Asian ghost, the image of a young girl with long black hair and draped in a white dress is often the first mental image to come to mind. Clearly influencing films like "The Ring," a Nü gui arises when a heinous act leads to a woman committing suicide. However, the ghost is driven more by a need for revenge than justice. Whether clothed in red or white, these female ghosts frequently take the shape of beautiful women, luring men to an early grave.

#4: Shui Gui


Chinese urban myths tend to revolve around the various ways people can die. Drowning sounds like a horrible way to go, especially when the deceased transforms into a Shui Gui. Translating literally into "water ghost," these beings are also known as the ghosts of the drowned, and wait patiently at their watery grave for any unsuspecting swimmers who happen to be there. Once within arms reach, the victim is dragged underwater by the spirit and forced to take residence as the new Shui Gui – ensuring the lake or river never becomes a ghost-free zone.

#3: Huli Jing



Thanks to their popularity in anime, fox spirits are relatively well-known outside of Asia. Unlike most other spirits, Huli Jing can be a force for good or evil, but China's version is regularly portrayed as a seductress who requires masculine energy to sustain the spirit's immortality and magical powers. Outside of anime, the best-known example has to be King Zhou of Shang's wife Daji, who gained a nasty reputation due to a fondness for torture. Later novels presented the controversial woman as a malevolent fox spirit.

#2: Mogwai


Seriously, do not feed these demons after dark! Loosely translated into devils and monsters, Mogwai originally referred to sinful souls caught between life and death. In due time, the meaning slowly evolved into malicious ghosts who seek out revenge against those who harmed them during a previous life. A common subset of Mogwai are shapeshifters, beasts who attempt to trick humans by taking the form of beautiful girls. Fun fact: the "do not get them wet" rule from “Gremlins” is actually based on folklore, as Mogwai mate during the rainy season.

#1: The Jiangshi


If neither a zombie nor a vampire is fashionable enough these days, why not just combine the two? Typically dressed as Qing Dynasty officials, Hopping Vampires are reanimated corpses who hop around seeking to zap the life force out of innocent humans. As there are various ways to create a Jiangshi, the creature's appearance varies depending on the elapsed time between its death and revival, with some being absolutely disgusting blobs of decomposing flesh. When a spirit fails to leave the body – usually due to a violent death or a poor burial – the corpse comes back to life as a Hopping Vampire.
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