KL Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
Thanks to creative re-imagination in pop culture shows such as the Twilight series, The Vampire Diaries, and True Blood, Western vampires are nowadays seen as mysterious, charismatic, and romantic.
Even Dracula himself has been reinvented as an antihero who’s eternally devoted to his deceased wife. For example, in the 2014 movie Dracula Untold and the video game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dracula was a faithful husband willing to go to extreme extents to revive his dead wife.
On the other hand, the same is not remotely the case for East Asian vampires. The embodiment of vengeance, murder, and black magic, these fiendish Asian bloodsuckers continue to be regarded as the stuff of nightmares. The villains of folk stories told to caution the misbehaving.
In some circles, just the mention of one of the names below will immediately invite dark, disapproving stares. One could even be rudely shooed away.
1. Aswang (Philippines)
“Aswang” is the generic name for malevolent supernatural entities in Filipino folktales, and can refer to zombies, witches, werewolves, or vampires.
The vampiric Aswang itself is described as often taking the form of a beautiful woman, this for the purpose of infiltrating villages. Once it traps a victim, the creature uses a proboscis-like tongue to drain the victim of all his blood.
Alternatively known as the Mandurugo in the Tagalog language, vampiric Aswangs are also considered as among the most dangerous supernatural monsters in Filipino folklore. The main reason for this being their ability to easily exist near to or even within human communes.
Lastly, these malicious killers are said to often marry men for the sake of feasting on their blood. The husbands would be slowly drained night by night, till death arrives. The Aswang then moves away to remarry, and the cycle of evil begins again.
2. Bajang (Malaysia)
Unlike other Asian vampires on this list, the Bajang isn’t of human form. Instead, this Malaysian folkloric monster is a weasel-like male creature, small and inoffensive at first sight.
Said to be created from the bodies of stillborn babies, or the afterlife form of evil humans, the Bajang’s typical victims are children and infants. According to legend, the creature would arrive at a household looking harmless and even adorable. Once it is accepted into a family, it will slyly feed on the young. After the children are dead, adults are seldom spared too.
Outside of deception, the cry of a Bajang is said to capable of inducing illnesses in children. The hellish shrieks additionally have the ability to spread madness and diseases in entire villages.
In short, and like the case with European vampires, this nasty monster is one creature you must never invite into your household. It spares no one. Everyone will be assured of an awful death.
3. Kephn (Myanmar)
The Karen people of Myanmar warn of the Kephn, a demonic vampire created from black magic.
Described as a flying head with exposed entrails, or sometimes as a canine-head demon, the Kephn is believed to be the nocturnal form of powerful dark sorcerers. In this ghastly manifestation, a Kephn hungrily sucks out the souls of its victims. Some myths even claim the Kephn is able to transfer ingested souls into other corpses, thus creating zombie servants.
Interestingly, the flying head description of the Kephn greatly resembles that of the Malaysian Penanggalan (see below). In both cases, the fiends are the results of demonic pacts or evil sorcery.
Likewise, both monsters are also extremely difficult to kill in the night, no thanks to their ability to fly. They are therefore best dealt with in the daytime. During hours with sunlight, the sorcerers are still deadly but with mortal bodies.
4. Langsuir (Malaysia)
Also called the Langsuyar, the Langsuir is a Malaysian vampire born from the vengeful spirit of a woman who died during childbirth.
Beautiful with knee-length hair, and with unnaturally long nails, a Langsuir’s favorite meal is the blood of newborn males, although it doesn’t mind eating newborn females too. In some alternate versions of the myths, the Langsuir is also described as a flying head with an exposed spinal cord and entrails. This description notably resembles that of the Penanggalan (see below).
Furthermore, the Langsuir is often confused with the Pontianak, the latter also a much-feared female vampire said to be born from the ghost of a woman who died while pregnant. On this, historians have highlighted that the Pontianak was originally recorded as the ghost of a stillborn child in Malay lore. The Pontianak is also different in that she eats her victims instead of ingesting blood.
To victims, though, such differences hardly matter. The two beings are best not even mentioned or thought of. If you have the misfortune of encountering one, your immediate instinct should be to flee.
5. Leyak (Indonesia)
A mythological creature fond of sucking the blood of unborn children and babies, the Leyak is Bali’s version of the Penanggalan (see below), and it's arguably a deadlier version, too.
Equipped with long tongues and fangs, and capable of spreading diseases, Leyaks are believed to be black magic practitioners with a taste for human flesh and blood. Worse, they inhabit graveyards, eat corpses, and have shapeshifting abilities.
Most terrifying of all, during daylight, a Leyak is no different from any other human. Once night arrives, though, its head and entrails break free from its body. This horrid Asian vampire then soars across the night sky, gleefully hunting for prey.
Of note, Leyaks are also said to be the followers of the widow-witch Rangda. One of the most feared and powerful entities in Balinese mythology, Rangda is the eternal enemy of Barong, the lion-like King of the Spirits.
If you’ve ever been to Bali, or have watched a Balinese cultural performance, chances are, you’d have already seen the faces of Rangda and Barong. The epic fight between them is one of the most performed Balinese traditional dances. Rangda is also the classic representation of a malicious Leyak. Seeing her is akin to staring at a Leyak in the face.
6. Nure-Onna (Japan)
The Nure-Onna (濡れ女) is one of Japan’s many yokai, or supernatural creatures. It is also one that’s certainly not going to be featured as a tourist mascot anytime soon.
Translated as “the drenched/wet woman,” a description born from her raggedly hair, this fiendish Japanese vampire is a human-size serpent with a woman’s head. Typically found near large bodies of water, different provinces of Japan vary when it comes to descriptions of them. In all versions, though, the Nure-Onna is either a merciless killer or an instrument of murder.
For example, the myths of Shimane describes the Nure-Onna as the harbinger of a deadlier, pig-headed monster. The Nure-Onna would hand over a bundle that resembles a swaddled child. Thereafter, the bundle would transform into a boulder to trap the victim. A pig-headed monster then arrives to eat the incapacitated victim.
In another version, the Nure-Onna executes the same deception but acts alone. A kind person who receives the bundle would be spared but any who attempts to throw the bundle away would be similarly trapped. The Nure-Onna then slowly drains the victim of blood using her serpentine tongue.
7. Penanggalan (Malaysia)
The Penanggalan is a ghastly Asian vampire from Malay folktales, one that is described as a flying woman’s head with exposed entrails.
Believed to be the supernatural/nocturnal forms of wicked witches, a Penanggalan drifts about the night hunting for its favorite victims i.e. women in childbirth. Typically, it would then hide under stilt-houses. From there, it uses its long tongue to feast on the blood of these new mothers. Those whose blood are drunk from would then contract a horrible wasting disease.
Horrifying as they are, though, there are many ways to deal with a Penanggalan, all of which involve the exposed entrails of the vampire. A witch doesn’t actually abandon her body after assuming Penanggalan form; instead, her body, with a large bloody hole at the neck, is merely left inert.
Pouring glass down that body thus prevents this Malay vampire from “reuniting” with her body, which in turn would kill the witch once the sun rises. Alternatively, the body could be burnt or thorny leaves scattered around one’s dwelling. The latter method injures the exposed entrails of a Penanggalan when it loiters near. Such injuries could result in death the next day.
8. Polong (Malaysia)
The Polong is more of a familiar or homunculus in Malaysian folktales, rather than a vampire. Around an inch tall and female in gender, Polongs are used by black magicians to enact vengeance against enemies. According to legend, Polongs attack victims by possessing them. A victim also then delirious till the Polong is skillfully exorcised, or till death.
As for how Polongs came to be associated with Asian vampires, this is likely due to the gruesome ritual used to create them.
The black magician must first collect the blood of a murder victim in a bottle, following which incantations have to be recited for 17 days. When the sound of chirping birds is heard, it signifies that the Polong has taken form and is ready for “orders.”
Thereafter, the black magician must still feed blood to the Polong daily to keep the creature in service. It is thus only reasonable to assume Polongs, like Western vampires, depend on human blood for sustenance.
9. Suiko (Japan)
Suiko (水虎) means “water tiger” in Japanese, and they are greatly similar in appearance to the famous kappa. Unlike the kappa, though, they are uglier and far more violent. Some myths also claim the Suikos are the tribal leaders of kappas. These depictions portray the monster as each leading a band of 48 kappas.
As for the wickedness they are most feared for, Suikos are fond of dragging humans into rivers and lakes, following which they would drain their victims of blood and feast on their souls. Doubly disturbing is the belief that these monsters do not kill for sustenance. They do so purely to appear strong to their kappa minion i.e. to stay in authority.
In turn, kappas mimic such killings to impress their “boss,” thus setting into motion a terrible cycle of murder. For the poor peasants of rural Japan, the only way to protect themselves from Suikos is to avoid deserted bodies of water, to scatter flaxseed around their dwellings, or to perform an awful ritual.
This ritual involves luring a Suiko into compulsively prancing by using the decaying body of its victim. After the corpse has completely decomposed, the Suiko will lose all its power. Thereafter, it perishes too.
Where Is the Chinese Jiangshi?
Though often translated as the “Chinese vampire,” jiangshi (僵尸) are strictly speaking, not Asian vampires. Instead, they are reanimated corpses i.e. zombies. Traditionally, there is also no Chinese folktale of jiangshi drinking blood or intentionally doing evil.
- Definition of Aswangs, Wikipedia.
- Vampire folklore by regions, Wikipedia.
- Description of Nure-Onna, Wikipedia.
- Description of Suiko, Wikipedia (Japanese)
- Ghosts in Malay Culture, Wikipedia
- Description of Polong, Wikipedia
- Description of Kephn in Encyclopedia of Demons in Religions and Cultures, Theresa Bane.
© 2020 Yong Kuan Leong