The article examines the image of zombies in Chinese culture, the traditional perception of their appearance and internal characteristics. A wide scope of written sources served as the basis of the study: inscriptions on oracle bones, ancient fortune-telling calendars, historical treatises, chronicles and commentaries on chronicles, essays on geography and medicine, fiction of old and modern China, as well as entries and comments from the Chinese blogosphere.
The authors examine how the idea of evil spirits (with a body or bodiless ones) first appeared in the religious worldview of the ancient Chinese, and trace its origin to the doctrine of existence of multiple souls in one person. The article also details the formation of the pictorial image of Chinese zombies: animated corpses covered with hair or dressed as government officials, with their arms extended forward, hopping on straight legs unable to bend their knees. As for the functional characteristics of zombies, the authors discuss not only their well-known features (e.g., cannibalism), but also their deep inner connection with water and drought. In conclusion, the authors explore the evolution of zombies in modern urban legends and demonstrate the continuity of traditional demonology that develops into modern narrative.
Apart from that, the article contains a number of analogies and comparisons of the Chinese image of zombies with other nations’ mythological tradition.
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