Chinese Folktales

40. Ghost Stories

WHEN a person dies his body is first laid out on his bed, face upwards. He is put into new clothes and an ear of millet is placed by his head and a ploughshare on his chest so that the corpse shall not rise again. Nevertheless, one Occasionally hears of a corpse rising. According to old people a corpse rises when it is struck by the breath of living people or when a dog or cat sniffs it. It will then straighten up. If the living person in the room is sitting the corpse will also sit, if a person is standing up then the corpse too will rise to its feet. If the person runs away in fear then the corpse will follow it, as if drawn by some secret force. But such corpses cannot speak.

It is said that, until a corpse is placed in his coffin, the people who keep a vigil must not lie down to sleep feet to feet with the corpse. The reason is that, while a human sleeps, the force of brightness in his body circulates right down to the soles of his feet. Should these accidentally touch the feet of the corpse then this force of brightness would flow into the corpse and mingle there with the force of darkness so that the corpse will seem to come to life again.

It also happens that corpses which have already been buried will not decay but will rise from their graves at night and haunt the living. Those are ghosts. If this goes on for a long time these ghosts gradually change into the spirits of drought which can cause prolonged dry spells. Whenever clouds appear in the sky, promising rain, such

a spirit of drought will pick up a broom and sweep the clouds together, piling them on his grave. Then the sky is clean once more and the sun comes out again. There is one reliable way of stopping these spirits of the drought. One investigates whether among the graves of persons recently buried there is one which has the moisture of rain upon it whereas all around everything else is dry. That must be the grave. The elders then summon all the men of the village, the grave is opened up again and the coffin unscrewed. If it is then found that the corpse has not decayed but that white or green hair is growing on it, it is vigorously beaten with sticks and burnt on a fire. This produces a hissing noise. That is why there is a widespread custom in the countryside that, while corpse lies in state, all brooms are carefully hidden away so he shall not steal one and turn into a spirit of drought. If such a spirit pursues its activities for a long time he may change into a or into an ogre flying across the sky.

In the Sung period there lived a man who was exceptionally strongwilled. After his death he haunted the place as a ghost and finally turned into a golden-haired werewolf. This werewolf looked like a lion, except that it was much bigger and that its whole body was covered with golden hair well over a foot long. It devoured humans and animals without number. The magicians were unable to subdue it, until one day the saint Wen Shu arrived. He forced the werewolf to submit to him so he could ride on it.

Buddhism has three powerful helpers in adversity, and pictures of all three can be seen in many places, showing them all mounted on animals. The first is the saint Pu Hien, who rides a lion, the next is the saint in the white robes who rides an elephant and is revered as Kuan Yin or the of mercy on the island of Putou in the southern sea, and the third, as we have seen, is the saint Wen Chu on a werewolf.