Creepy Chinese Legends And Myths

Voting Rules
Vote up the scariest stories from Chinese folklore.

China has a rich history of folklore and mythology, including creepy myths. Much of Chinese mythology focuses on ghosts and demons - and if you think all ghosts are the same, you're in for a surprise. There are so many different kinds of Chinese ghosts and demons, from women who will give you winning lottery numbers but expect something in return to malevolent animal spirits that really, really want to take your soul. And, of course, there's plenty of just plain weird Chinese folklore too.

China is one of the world's oldest civilizations, and its history is rich with stories that will truly frighten you. Chinese myths are richly detailed and fully realized, not just some half-baked ghost story you hear from a friend. This list dives deep into Chinese culture and extracts the creepiest Chinese myths and legends. Vote up the tales that scare you the most.

  • 1
    3,052 VOTES

    A Jealous Wife Keeps A Terrible Secret

    Gan Bao was one of the first Chinese writers to record tales of the supernatural. He was known to live from some time before 315 CE to about 336 CE. One of his best-known works is Records of an Inquest into the Spirit-Realm, which contains many ghost stories. But more than the stories themselves, it's the inspiration behind them that will make your skin crawl: when Gan Bao's father passed, his mother secretly entombed a maid with whom her husband was having an affair alive in his crypt, sealing the two together forever, and, she thought, conscripting the maid to doom. The family knew nothing of her plot.

    Years later, when Gan Bao's mother passed, they opened up the tomb to lay her to rest next to her husband. What they found was the maid, weakened but very much alive. She said that the ghost of Gan Bao's father had brought her food and water for 10 years, keeping her alive until she was freed. ​​​​​

    3,052 votes
  • 2
    1,752 VOTES

    The Shui Gui, The Souls Of The Drowned

    If you're afraid of drowning, you might want to avoid swimming in China.

    The shui gui are vengeful ghosts of people who have met their demise in the water. They lurk in the same spot where they perished, waiting for an unsuspecting person to swim by. Once they've found a target, the shui gui drown them, and the new person becomes the shui gui, perpetuating the cycle forever.

    1,752 votes
  • 3
    1,804 VOTES

    A Husband And Wife, Wiped Out By A Painted Demon

    The Painted Skin is a supernatural allegory about foolishly succumbing to your desires. It was written as a short story by Pu Songling and published in a collection of his work, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio , in 1740.

    The story concerns a man who brings home a beautiful woman whom he meets on the street. She tells him she is homeless, having just escaped an abusive family. He hides her from his wife, confining her to the library, and has an affair with her. A priest warns him that there is evil in his house, and when he returns, he peers through a window and sees the Devil painting the woman's skin and bringing her to life.

    Eventually, the woman slays the man who saved her by ripping his heart out of his chest, and in a desperate bid to resurrect him, his wife approaches a street preacher, who beats her, demeans her, and spits in her mouth. He tells her she must swallow his spit if she wants to resurrect her husband. She does, but feels very ashamed. She goes home and begins to prepare her husband's body for interment, but as she is trying to close the wound on his chest, she coughs up a human heart, which she places inside her husband. She sews him up, and by the next morning, he is once again alive.

    Songling spares no one from judgment in his story, damning both the husband for cheating on his wife and the wife for debasing herself for a man who was not faithful to her. The Painted Skin is often told as a cautionary tale about desire and misplaced loyalty.

    1,804 votes
  • 4
    1,406 VOTES

    In The Afterlife, Wicked Souls Languish In Diyu

    In The Afterlife, Wicked Souls Languish In Diyu
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Diyu is the equivalent of hell in Chinese mythology. When someone passes, their soul's first stop is Diyu. There, they are judged, and punishment is handed out. Unlike in many other cultures, people are not consigned to Diyu forever. The amount of time spent there depends on how much they sinned in life.

    If you were a relatively good person in life, you won't have to spend much time in Diyu before being freed and reincarnated. But if you weren't? You're in for a long, painful journey. Because in Diyu, you can feel pain, but you can't perish. And whatever damage inflicted upon your body after a round of torment is erased before the start of the next round, ensuring that you feel every whip, cut, burn, and disembowelment. 

    1,406 votes
  • 5
    1,057 VOTES

    The Jiangshi, A Terrifying Mix Of Zombies And Vampires

    Here in the US, vampire tropes have become kind of lame. The sexualization of these mythological beings has taken them from terrifying to intriguingly but safely dangerous, like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club . If you yearn for classic vampire tales, like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Bela Lugosi's seminal take on the blood-sucking beast, you're going to be really jealous of the Chinese myth of the jiangshi .

    The Chinese word "jiangshi" translates directly to "hard" or "stiff" in English, which makes sense, because jiangshi are kind of like a cross between a zombie and a vampire. They are freshly deceased cadavers that suck blood to survive.

    So where does the zombie part come in? Well, the jiangshi are said to turn just as their cadavers are settling into rigor mortis. A jiangshi wakes up, joints stiffened, and has to hop from place to place with its arms outstretched for balance.

    Legends about these creatures date back to the 18th century. It is said that many things can cause a corpse to turn into a jiangshi , including taking one's life, magic, or improper interment. Like other vampiric creatures, there are certain things that repel them: wood from a peach tree, a hoof from a black donkey, a rooster's call, or a mirror.

    These stories arose from the way the cadavers of migratory workers were transported back to their homes during the Qing Dynasty. The cadavers were essentially forced upright and carried on a man's back, which made it look like it was bouncing. Because it was such a depressing and gruesome sight, they were transported at night, and the myth of the jiangshi was born.

    1,057 votes
  • 6
    706 VOTES

    Fox Demons Will Come For Your Heart

    If you ever happen to come across a village in China and find yourself surrounded by cadavers that have had their hearts torn out, then there's only one logical answer: a Fox Demon was responsible. Fox demons in Chinese lore tend to appear as beautiful women, often with a seductive flare, and will seduce any man they set their sights on. Whichever poor, unfortunate soul becomes the object of their desire will end up losing their heart - and maybe their liver, too - as the demons will devour said organs to keep themselves looking young and beautiful.

    Not all fox demons are evil, however; there are generous and benevolent fox spirits out there that won't eat your heart.

    706 votes