Vampires have captivated the Western imagination for centuries. From Bram Stoker’s seminal novel, Dracula, to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, to the ‘90s masterpiece that was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the current season of American Horror Story, the list goes on and on.
Because the figure of the vampire has become so solidified over time—with each vampire movie and novel reinscribing very specific stereotypes—there is little variance in their defining characteristics. (Twilight, as always, is irrelevant here.) Yet, what about the vampires who appear in cultures other than the Western popular imagination?
Today, East meets West in a cross-cultural showdown between the undead. Our contenders: the Goeng-Si (殭屍; aka “Chinese hopping vampire”) and the Generic Vampire (aka “the dangerous but sexy English-speaking vampire of vague European origin”).
Goeng-Si, which translates to “stiff corpse,” gets its name from the condition of rigor mortis—whereby the limbs stiffen after death. With their outstretched arms and taut joints, the Chinese vampires are the literal manifestation of this name. Because of their stiffness and inability to bend their knees, the goeng-si have to hop to move. And so, the hopping vampire was born. As you can see, the Chinese take their horror very seriously.
What I gather from all the Chinese vampire movies I grew up watching is that, apart from the common dominator of hopping, the Goeng-Si takes on one of two appearances. The first involves an incredibly pasty complexion and smudged black circles around the eyes, not unlike my appearance during exams. The second involves markedly more decay and rotting flesh. In this case, a family member has asked a Taoist priest to resurrect a long-deceased beloved one, and he does so successfully.
All Goeng-Si dress in super traditional dynastic attire and have a paper talisman, which resembles a long piece of toilet paper or a shopping receipt, attached to their forehead. In essence, they look like they’re permanently trapped in a poorly funded period piece.
Translucent white skin, cold to the touch. Inhuman eyes. No rotting skin (probably no pimple problems). Perpetual streak of blood meandering down side of mouth. Generally brooding. Often sexy.
I made this decision solely based on the fact that the Goeng-Si hops and belongs to the Chinese equivalent of a Jane Austen film. That is all.
Goeng-Si and Generic Vampire:
How someone becomes a Goeng-Si is surprisingly quite similar to how the generic vampire is created. The various ways for someone to turn into a vampire include being infected by another vampire, absorbing someone’s energy or spirit, using black magic, and being improperly buried.
The major difference between our two vampires is that Goeng-Si don’t actually suck blood. Instead, they suck the qi, or life force, from their victims. Envision Dementors, but instead of absorbing your happiness, they just go straight for the good stuff.
They live off drinking human blood (duh), but can subsist on animal blood if necessary. Unlike the Goeng-Si who, to the best of my knowledge, have no other supernatural powers, the Generic Vampire has super speed, super strength, mind control, can climb super high walls (à la Dracula), can shape-shift, and… is looking attractive an ability?
Winner: Generic Vampire
For sheer quantity of skills alone.
According to many reputable sources (my mother and my stash of 80s Chinese vampire movies), Goeng-Si can’t die because they’re already dead. Garlic won’t stop them. Holy water won’t stop them. Sunlight is a mere annoyance. And a stab to the heart is just a flesh wound! The only way to impede their attack is to stop their hopping. And this is where the paper talisman comes in. The strip of paper must have some kind of binding spell on it, written by a Taoist priest with blood. Attaching this paper onto the Goeng-Si’s forehead renders it indefinitely paralyzed, unless the talisman is removed.
A very legitimate scholarly search on Wikipedia tells me that there are actually a myriad of ways to prevent Goeng-Si from sucking the living qi out of you. Most of them involve some variation of throwing rice and eggs. Call it nostalgia, but I’d like to think the only way to stop those suckers is to smack yellow receipts on their foreheads to stop their hopping, and your impending death.
One thing that I will never understand is why vampires of vague European origin are so delicate. Nearly everything kills them. In a way, they’re almost as fragile as humans are; perhaps even more so, because garlic is amazing and delicious and the vampiric race is missing out on a whole lot of Italian cuisine—human or otherwise.
Imagining me stop a Goeng-Si by smacking a shoddy piece of paper on its forehead, thereby stopping it mid-hop, makes me so happy.
ULTIMATE WINNER: You decide!
-Contributed by Janice To