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Get to know the hopping ghosts of Asia, pocong and jiangshi

There are two varieties of ghosts in Southeast Asia renowned for hopping their way around, one is the pocong and the other is jiangshi.

They have different reasons for only being able to hop around: Pocong hops because its whole body is bound while jiangshi’s limbs are stiff from rigor mortis so it hops around with its arms outstretched.

Here we take a closer look of pocong and jiangshi, the hopping ghosts of Asia:


On top of nasi goreng and rendang, Malaysia and Indonesia share many other non-edible similarities and one of them is pocong. It is believed to be the soul of a dead person trapped in its shroud or kain kafan in Malay.

In Muslim burials, the corpse is wrapped in a simple and modest manner which is why white cotton cloth is used. After being enshrouded, the body is tied in three areas; around the head, neck and feet.

According to traditional beliefs, the soul will stay on earth for 40 days after death. In order for the soul to pass on, these ties should be released 40 days after the burial. If they aren’t, the corpse will appear as pocong, hopping around hoping to be free from its ties.

Pocong pranks

With white fabric and some strings, dressing up as a pocong seems to be the easiest Halloween costume.

With fear of pocong still very real, it is also the easiest way to prank people. Earlier this year in Malaysian state of Kedah, a group of youths decided to dress one of their friends as a pocong to scare young children.

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Unfortunately for this pocong and his friends, they bumped into a policeman barely 15 minutes after they set out on their mission.

The policeman told them off and the prank ended just like that.

Moving over to Indonesian city of Depok, two teenagers pulled the same prank. But they did not meet with the same ending with their fellow pranksters in Malaysia.

The villagers who caught the pranksters punished them by forcing them to sleep in a graveyard. They ended up calling their parents because the two ‘pocongs’ started crying as they lay in the open graves,

Thankfully in both cases, there were no police reports filed against the pranksters.

So if you think you saw what appeared to be a pocong, look closer. It might be just some kids pulling some tricks.

Or maybe a real pocong waiting to be untied.

Before you scream when you see a pocong, make sure it is not some prank done by teenagers.

Unlike pocong which is dressed in white cloth, jiangshi have better OOTD. They are usually dressed in official garments from the Qing dynasty with a coat-like robe and tall rimmed hat.

Jiangshi is separated into two categories; a person who died recently but came back to life and a corpse that does not decompose after being buried for a long time.

There are plenty of supernatural reasons why these dead bodies make their comebacks as jiangshi. Somebody may have used supernatural skills (maybe something similar to Harry Potter’s Resurrection Stone) to resurrect a body, or another spirit has taken possession of the dead body.

Other causes are when a dead person is not buried and was struck by  lightning, bringing it back as jiangshi or when the soul simply refuses to leave the body.

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Either ways, there are methods to put jiangshis back where ever they should be. According to traditional folklore, these include a mirror (they are scared of their own reflections), items made from peach tree wood, a rooster’s call as well as jujube seeds.

The origin story of jiangshi

But what do pocong and jiangshi have in common besides hopping around to get to places?

Just like pocong whose soul wants to be released from this Earth, jiangshi is a soul who wants to go to its final resting place.

The origin story of jiangshi came from the ancient practice of transporting a corpse called xiangxi ganshi. Xianxi is a prefecture in China located in western Hunan province. In the olden days, many people left their homes to work elsewhere.

After they died, their bodies were transported back to their hometown. These were the days when there was no such thing as a hearse. So the body wasput in an upright position with bamboo rods tied to its sides. Two men would carry the rods on their shoulders to transport the corpse.

When the bamboo rods flexed up and down, the body would move up and down too. This is perhaps how the legend of jiangshi originated since the corpse looks like it hops up and down.

The two famous hopping ghosts have Asian origin proving again that Asia have more varieties not only with is rich culture and biodiversity but also its supernatural world.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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