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Content created: 2020-11-05
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The Greedy Zombie


Tales of reanimated corpses are a common genre in Chinese folklore, but so are tales with moral lessons. The following “zombie” story is an example of both: a horror story with a moral. On the whole, it is better as a horror story than as a moral one.

The story comes from the brush of Yuán Méi 袁枚, an XVIIIth-century man of letters with both an interest in the supernatural and a sense of Confucian orthodoxy. The “zombie” here is unusual in having a motive attributed to it: greed, although the object of its greed is the paper mock ingots used in funerals to provide wealth to the deceased for use in the next world. More importantly, Mr. Wáng , the living protagonist of the story, is also motivated by his own greed: the hope of finding an unearned chest of silver and gold. His brush with the zombie brings him to the uplifting realization that greed can bring a person to the edge of destruction.

Although Wáng, the protagonist, attributes the destruction of the zombie/body to its greed, the story doesn’t really quite say that. The zombie, like other Chinese zombies, mindlessly pursues and attacks the living human. It is destroyed when it stops to pick up the ingots that already belong to it. Only Wáng is actually greedy here, and we can justifiably argue that he is being disingenuous when he tries to argue that the zombie is as guilty of greed as he is, the more so because the zombie is destroyed in the end, while he is none the worse for wear.

As Chinese zombie lore, one message of this story is nevertheless useful to note: zombies are not entirely single-mindedly set upon the destruction of living victims. This one is also concerned with keeping track of what belongs to it.

See also “A Brief Note on Chinese ‘Zombies’”(link).


The Greedy Zombie

by Yuán Méi 袁枚

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Acknowledgements: The traditional Chinese text and the English translation are from J.J.M. de GROOT 1892-1910 The Religious System of China. Leiden: E.J.Brill. Vol. 5, pp. 738-740. Both have been lightly edited. Pinyin and simplified character versions were mechanically created from the traditional character version.

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