List of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore

The following is a list of supernatural beings in Chinese folklore and fiction originating from traditional folk culture and 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 guiEdit

Ba jiao gui (Chinese: 芭蕉鬼; pinyin: bā jiāo guǐ; lit. 'banana ghost') is a female ghost that dwells in a banana tree and appears wailing under the tree at night, sometimes carrying a baby. In some folktales 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, stick sharp needles into the tree, and tie the other end of the string to their beds. At night, the ghost appears and begs the person to set her free. In return, she will give him/her 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 similar in some aspects to the Pontianak/Kuntilanak in Malay and Indonesian folklore.

Di fu lingEdit

Di fu ling (traditional Chinese: 地縛靈; simplified Chinese: 地缚灵; pinyin: dì fù líng; lit. '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 when they were alive.

Diao si guiEdit

Diao si gui (Chinese: 吊死鬼; pinyin: diào sǐ guǐ; lit. 'hanged ghost') are the ghosts of people who died from hanging due to various reasons (e.g. execution, suicide, accident). They are usually depicted with long red tongues sticking out of their mouths.[4]

E guiEdit

E gui (traditional Chinese: 餓鬼; simplified Chinese: 饿鬼; pinyin: è guǐ; lit. 'hungry ghost') refers to ghosts that appear during the Ghost Festival. They are 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 is usually depicted as having green or grey skin, a mouth too small for ingesting food, and sometimes with a potbelly. The ghost suffers from insatiable hunger and roams the streets and kitchens in search of 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 poEdit

Gui po (Chinese: 鬼婆; pinyin: guǐ pó; lit. 'old woman ghost') is a ghost that takes the form of a peaceful 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 take care of young children and babies. However, there are also evil gui pos with disgusting and violent appearances.

Heibai WuchangEdit


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."[5][6]


The jiangshi (traditional Chinese: 殭屍; simplified Chinese: 僵屍; pinyin: jiāngshī; Wade–Giles: chiang-shih; lit. '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 that move by hopping around and they kill living beings to absorb their yang energy.

Niu tou ma mianEdit

Nü guiEdit

Nü gui (Chinese: 女鬼; pinyin: nǚ guǐ; lit. '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 experienced some form of 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, in the hope that her spirit will return to take revenge on her murderer. In traditional folklore, the colour red symbolises anger and vengeance. On the other hand, some ancient folktales 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; lit. 'male ghost'), is rarely mentioned.


A statue of Qianliyan in Perak, Malaysia

Qianliyan is a Chinese sea and door god. He usually appears with Shunfeng'er as a guardian of the temples of the sea goddess Mazu.

Shui guiEdit

Shui gui (Chinese: 水鬼; pinyin: shuǐ guǐ; lit. 'water ghost') are the spirits of people who drowned. They lurk in the place where they died, drag unsuspecting victims underwater, and drown them to take possession of their bodies. This process is known as ti shen (Chinese: 替身; pinyin: tì shēn; lit. 'replace the body'), in which the spirit returns to life in the victim's body while the victim's spirit takes the shui gui's place and constantly seeks to take control of another living person's body.


Shunfeng'er is a Chinese sea and door god. He usually appears with Qianliyan as a guardian of the temples of the sea goddess Mazu.

Wutou guiEdit

Wutou gui (traditional Chinese: 無頭鬼; simplified Chinese: 无头鬼; pinyin: wútóu guǐ; lit. '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). In some tales, the wutou gui approaches people at night and asks them where his/her head is. The wutou gui is sometimes depicted as carrying his/her head on the side.

You hun ye guiEdit

You hun ye gui (Chinese: 游魂野鬼; pinyin: yóu hún yě guǐ; lit. '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 August in the Gregorian calendar) during the Ghost Festival. These spirits include vengeful ghosts seeking revenge on those who offended them before, hungry ghosts (see the #E gui section above), and playful spirits who might cause trouble during that period.

Some of these spirits have no living relatives or resting place, while others might lose their way and cannot 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.[7] There are classified by some scholars from various universities in Taiwan.[8][9][10][11][12] Some of these spirits may become deities known as "Wang Ye" (traditional Chinese: 王爺; simplified Chinese: 王爷; pinyin: Wáng yé; lit. 'royal lord').

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

Yuan guiEdit

Yuan gui (Chinese: 冤鬼; pinyin: yuān guǐ; lit. 'ghost with grievance') are the spirits of persons who died wrongful deaths. Beliefs in such ghosts had surfaced in China from as early as the Zhou dynasty and were recorded in the historical text Zuo Zhuan.[13] These ghosts can neither rest in peace nor be reincarnated. 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 approach living people and attempt to communicate with them to lead them to clues or pieces of evidence that point out that they died wrongful deaths. The living people then try to help them clear their names or otherwise ensure that justice is served.

Ying lingEdit

Ying ling (traditional Chinese: 嬰靈; simplified Chinese: 婴灵; pinyin: yīng líng; lit. 'infant spirit') refer to the spirits of dead fetuses. The idea of such spirits are purported to have originated in Japan.[14][15][16] Memorial services are held for them in Taiwan.[17][18] A writer identified as "Zuigongzi" (lit. "drunk gentleman") wrote an article on in 2004 to claim that the stories of ying ling were fabricated.[19]

Zhi renEdit

Zhi ren (traditional Chinese: 紙人; simplified Chinese: 纸人; pinyin: zhǐ rén; lit. 'paper person') are dolls made from paper that 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; lit. '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 shenEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The novel Zhǎn guǐ chuán (斬鬼傳; Story of Slaying Demons) by the Qing dynasty writer Liu Zhang (劉璋). See 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]. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Pu Songling. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (in Chinese). 5. 人死為鬼,鬼死為魙
  6. ^ 子不語 第三卷 [Zi Bu Yu. Vol. 3.] (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  7. ^ 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 [Baoxi Fengqing]. Archived from the original on 3 March 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  8. ^ 蓬山冥府話滄桑,見證先民血淚的鬼厲信仰 (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  9. ^ Hsu, Hsien-ping (許献平) (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). National Sun Yat-sen University. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  10. ^ Yang, Shu-ling (楊淑玲) (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). National Cheng Kung University. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  11. ^ Wu, Yixuan (吳依萱) (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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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). Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Li, Yuzhen (李玉珍) (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. Volume 6, 1st Edition] (in Chinese). Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University. pp. 225–229. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  16. ^ 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). Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing.
  17. ^ 台湾社会における「嬰霊」と「小鬼」信仰 (in Japanese). Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  18. ^ 宗教と倫理 第3号 [Religion and Ethics. Volume 3] (PDF) (in Japanese). 宗教倫理学会 [Japan Association of Religion and Ethics]. December 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  19. ^ 醉公子 [Zuigongzi] (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.