Chinese Ghost Stories

As this month marks Halloween, we have gathered some spooky stories from Chinese traditional folklore for you to check out. If you’d like to read more stories, purchase the book Strange Tales from Liaozhai online.

The Restless Corpse

An old man once resided in the village of Caidian, in Yangxin county. About five or six li from the village, the man and his son established a roadside inn to lodge traveling merchants. There were a number of cart drivers carrying goods, coming and going, who often stayed there.

One evening at dusk a group of four men came up to the door wanting to put up for the night, but the old man’s lodge was already filled up with guests. The four men considered there were no other options and strongly requested to stay. The old man muttered to himself and thought of one place, but worried that it might not meet the approval of the guests.

“Provided there’s a single space even in your halls or under your eaves,” the visitors said, “we wouldn’t ask for anything more.”

At that time, the wife of the old man’s son had just died. Her corpse lay in a room, his son having gone out to purchase a coffin and not yet having returned. Because the mourning area was quiet, the old man guided them there through a passageway.

In the room with the corpse, a dim lamp was set on a table; behind the table hung a curtain, and there was a paper bedspread covering the deceased. They looked over the place where they were to sleep on a big bed in the adjoining room. The four visitors were exhausted from their day’s busy travels, so as soon as they laid down on their pillows, their breathing turned to snores. One of the men, however, was still only half asleep.

Suddenly he heard a swishing sound coming from the bed of the deceased. Anxiously opening his eyes, he found that the lamplight shining before the bier revealed everything clearly: the woman’s corpse tore off the coverlet and sat up; soon she left the bier and crept over to where the men were lying. Her face was a slightly jaundiced color and she wore a strip of thin silk tied around her forehead. Lowering herself near the head of the bed, she exhaled three times on the three guests laying there.

The man was terrified; fearing she was about to reach him, he stealthily covered his head with the bedspread and held his breath to listen for what would happen. Soon the woman took her place and exhaled at him as she had done to the others.

Becoming aware that she had left their room, he then heard the sound of the paper coverlet again. He stuck his head out a bit to spy, and saw her stretched out stiff, as she had been originally. Horribly frightened, the guest dared not make a sound; he covertly prodded the other men with his leg, but they didn’t move a bit. Though lacking a plan, he figured there was no alternative but to throw on his clothes and flee.

No sooner had he jumped up to pull on his clothes than he noticed that sound again. In terror, the visitor laid down and pulled his head back under the bedspread. He became aware of the woman returning, repeatedly exhaling at him several times, then leaving again.

After a while, he heard the noise from the bed, so he knew she was lying down again. Then he inched his hand out from under the bedspread to get his pants, hastily yanked them on, and ran outside barefooted. The corpse also rose up to chase him. By the time it started to move away from the curtain, the guest had unlatched the door and gone outside. The corpse sped after him in pursuit.

The man ran screaming through the village, but not a person was awakened. He wanted to pound on his host’s door, but he was also fearful of being caught from staying too long in that place. Thereupon he ran as fast as he could go along the road leading away from the village.

Once he’d made it to the countryside east of town, he spied a monastery, and hearing the sound of a wooden fish, he was quick to rattle the gate. This surprised the monks as something totally unexpected, so they didn’t admit him right away. The corpse, right on his heels, was soon within a chi of him. The man became even more frantic.

Outside the gate was a white poplar, its trunk four or five chi around, so he used the tree as defense; when she went to the left, he’d go to the right, and when she went right, he’d go left. The corpse grew more and more frustrated, but both were now feeling exhausted. The corpse paused while the guest, sweating and out of breath, hid behind the tree. Suddenly she pounced, stretching both arms around the tree to find and attack him. Terrified, he fell down. The corpse proved unable to seize him and stiffened up while hugging the tree.

The monks listened for a good long time, and upon hearing no further sound, ventured out to see the man lying on the ground. They saw he was near death, like a candle burning out, but his heart was still beating slightly. They carried him in and it wasn’t until the night had passed that he revived. They got him to drink some broth and asked him about himself, giving the visitor time to compose his answers.

By that time the morning bell had finished ringing, and as the dawn’s colors spread everywhere, the monks were able to sneak a peek at the tree outside—and as a result saw the stiffened corpse of the woman. Greatly astonished, they reported it to the county magistrate. The magistrate personally paid a visit to determine the facts. He sent his men to pry off the woman’s arms, but they were so rigid they couldn’t be moved. Examining the corpse carefully, he noticed that four fingers of each hand were curled like hooks and sunk up to the nails into the tree. They tried again with all their strength to pull them loose. Upon succeeding, they found finger holes that looked like they’d been dug in.

The magistrate dispatched some servants to the old man’s household which was in an uproar since the corpse had disappeared and guests had been killed. The servants reported what had happened. The old man then followed them to retrieve his daughter-in-law’s corpse.

The guest wept as he wondered aloud to the magistrate, “We four men went out together, and now only I return—what will the people in our home village believe about this?” The magistrate gave the man an official document and bestowed on him sufficient means to pay for his return home.

Goblins in the House

In Changshan lived a Master Li, the nephew of an important Ming dynasty Minister of Justice. His house there was full of weird goblins. One day he spotted a long, narrow wooden bench of a meaty red color that looked curiously decorated and smooth. Since Li knew that the thing hadn’t been there before, he approached to touch and prod it, but immediately knew something was wrong, for it felt horribly like soft flesh. Shocked and repelled, he turned away from it.

As soon as he turned back to look at it, its four legs began moving and gradually it disappeared inside the wall. In addition, he saw a white stick standing up against the wall, an immaculate luster adorning it. Coming closer, as he leaned upon the stick wearily, it collapsed, then slowly began to penetrate the wall like a snake and disappeared into it.

In the seventeenth year of Kangxi’s reign, a young man named Wang Junsheng lived and worked in a household as tutor for the family’s children. Late one day, when the lamps had just been lit, Wang was still wearing his shoes as he lay down on his bed.

Suddenly he saw a tiny person, maybe ten centimeters tall, enter from the outside, walk around a bit, then at once turn and leave.

In less than an instant, the tiny person carried in two small benches, looking like the kind made from plant stalks by children, and put in them in the middle of the room.

Again in just an instant, two tiny people entered, carrying a coffin perhaps four inches long, then stopped and set it upon the benches. They hadn’t had time to get everything secured when a woman arrived, following some male and female servants, all as small as the first little fellow. The woman wore mourning clothes, with hemp threads around her waist and a cloth wrapped around her head; she used her sleeve to cover her mouth, wheezing and weeping, making a buzzing sound like a giant fly.

Wang watched her for a very long time, so frightened that his hair was standing on end and he felt as though he was frozen in place. He burst out with a loud cry and tried to run away, suddenly tripping over the bed, shaking and shuddering so much that he was unable to get up.

Hearing these sounds, his family members huddled together while the tiny people in the hall all disappeared.

The Feral Dog

It was during Yu Qi’s uprising, which slaughtered a numbing quantity of people, that Li Hualong, a villager, was trying to return home, fleeing from the mountains. It was just at the time when soldiers were patrolling and Li feared that he might suffer disaster for being mistaken a rebel. Anxiously finding no place to hide, he lay down stiffly among the dead bodies crowded together, pretending to be one of the corpses. Once the soldiers had finished passing through, he was still too frightened to try to get away.

Suddenly he saw the corpses, missing heads and limbs, rise and stand up like a forest. From the mouth of one of them, whose nearly severed head was still connected to its shoulder, came the words, “If the feral dogs surround us, what then?” The mob of corpses joined in chorus, crying, “What then!” Shortly afterward, they all collapsed, and their voices were still.

Li, justly terrified and trembling, longed to get up—but then a grotesque creature, with a beast’s head and a human body, appeared and started chewing open human heads, sucking out the brain of each one. The horrified Li hid his head under a corpse. The thing poked at Li’s shoulder, trying to get at his head. Li used all his might to stay hidden so it couldn’t get to him, but the creature shoved away the corpse covering him till it could see Li’s head.

His fear increasing, with one hand Li searched underneath his waist, until he found a stone as huge as a bowl and grabbed it. The thing stooped, intending to bite into him. Li suddenly rose up and with a big shout struck it right in the mouth. The creature cried like an owl, covered its mouth in pain, and fled, spitting blood as it went.

Moving over to look, he found two teeth in the blood, with twisted middles and sharp ends, over four cun in length. He decided to take them back with him to show people, but nobody knew what kind of thing it was.