Thursday, July 18, 2019

"The Blood-Drinking Corpse" (1740)

This very short story by the Chinese writer Pu Songling (pictured above) is even older than the year commonly given, as Pu died 25 years before its first publication in 1740. Wikipedia says most of the nearly 500 so-called "marvel tales" in the collection from which it comes—Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio, though Pu expressed a preference for the title Tales of Ghosts and Foxes—were likely completed by 1679 (there's a Penguin version published in 2006 as Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio that looks pretty good, though it has only a little over a hundred stories and doesn't seem to include this one). So this story is very old, the oldest I've run into yet, and has the additional oddities of translation along with those of old horror stories, such as a tendency to assume that simply evoking the supernatural is enough to do most of the heavy lifting for effects. Yet for all that the story retains some brute power. As may be surmised from the title, it's a vampire tale with a surprising number of vampire features intact: the undead status, the sexualizing, and of course the rejuvenating blood-sucking. The setup, out in the Chinese countryside, is as simple and straightforward as a fairy tale. Three traveling merchants stop for the night at a village where the inn is full. The only accommodation is a ruined barn with a curtain in the back. It's their only choice so they settle down there for the night. One can't sleep. Then he sees the curtain move. Naturally, this worries him. Then a figure emerges, "whose form, hardly distinct, seemed penetrated by shadow.... He, little by little, recognized the silhouette of a female, seen by her short-quilted dress and her long narrow jacket." Next thing you know she's leaning over his sleeping companions. It looks like kissing, but actually she is "drinking in long draughts." And so forth, as it goes whirling on to its compact yet effective finish. It works pretty well as a blunt force instrument. I do understand the complaint with vampire tales as too often matters of bruised-purple romance—cheap Halloween goth, more or less—with all the rules and embellishments just crumbling into tiresome devices of mirrors and sunlight and garlic and vermin and mesmerism and wooden stakes and god knows what not. Perhaps because of its swift brevity, Pu Songling's "Blood-Drinking Corpse" makes a convincing case for this vampire as simple soulless desolate uncanny beast of the night.

Vampire Tales: The Big Collection, pub. Dark Chaos


  1. Female vampires aren't common in the western genre, right?

  2. I've actually seen more women vampires so far but my sample may be skewed.