Just because Chinese don't celebrate Halloween doesn't mean you can't scare the life out of them. You just need to do it differently. Everyone is afraid of the dark sometimes, but not for the same reasons.
Take horror movies. Western audiences are terrified by male serial killers or sex maniacs, who may or may not have come back from the dead.
Chinese audiences, on the other hand, tend to be frightened by Korean and Thai movies featuring ghosts - almost all spirits of women who died after suffering a great injustice.
The themes of injustice and corruption are as apparent in the spooky tales of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) collection of short stories Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio as they are today. In contrast, insanity, mindless violence and gore are tropes that run through today's American horror films, and arguably, today's American society as a whole.
We'll leave it to the psychoanalysts and sociologists to tease out the yin and yang behind the gender divide between Eastern and Western terror.
Instead, here is a practical guide to scaring the wits out of a Chinese person.
In the office or at home at night without many people around, the last thing you want to see is the ghost of a woman who has been wronged. She will have long black hair, and wear a white nightdress. Her face is indistinct.
She may appear outside your window. She may appear beside you in your bed. She may appear in a room as you open the door.
When she approaches, her arms may rise, to choke you to death. But you may die of terror first.
Requires: A wig, a few stuffed pillowcases, a sheet and duct tape.
Note: In the middle of the night say, "I hear a faucet dripping," then go into the kitchen and pretend to turn it off. Try to settle back to sleep, then say, "Did you hear footsteps?" Pretend you need some air, open the curtain, and scream when you see the spook suspended outside the window (with duct tape).
Vengeful female ghost
Some women go through such trauma that they kill themselves, either out of shame, or to escape a hopeless situation. Entering a room and seeing a woman hanging by a noose from the ceiling is particularly dreaded. Especially if the woman is wearing a red dress, because it means she intends to come back as a vengeful spirit.
Requires: Same materials as above, plus a noose and a red dress.
Note: This is a good one for an office restroom.
Sixth Sense: Gaslight
Two people are working late at night in an office building. The elevator door opens. The first person takes a step into the empty carriage, but his colleague grabs his arm and says, "Let's wait for the next one."
"Because that one was too full."
Sixth Sense: Night market
Two parents walk home through a closed-down night market in the heart of an old city. Their toddler keeps looking around with curiosity on his face. The mother asks, "What are you staring at?" The child responds, "All of the people shopping!"
Sixth Sense: Fortuneteller
You visit a fortuneteller recommended by your friend. The fortuneteller eerily knows intimate details of your life, including all the things that have gone wrong lately. You ask why you've been having bad luck, and the fortuneteller slowly raises his finger and fixes his gaze at a point just behind you. "It's because of her," he says.
Requires: Poker face; good relationship with a friend's child, bribing a fortuneteller.
Note: These three scenarios work because some people have the special ability to see the ghosts that surround us all the time. If a young child has this unwanted gift, parents can get rid of it by tapping on the child's eyes gently with chopsticks. Fortunetellers charge a fortune to get rid of pesky ghosts.
A business colleague invites you to his home for dinner. You see a few dolls and some alphabet blocks lying around on the floor and are confused, because you thought he was single. When it is time to eat, you notice a third set of chopsticks laid out on the table. When your host is in the kitchen, it sounds like he is singing to someone, and speaking in baby talk. Near the end of the meal, he takes off his heavy sweater, and you notice he has a golden amulet around his neck about the size of a thumb. Your heart stops beating for a moment, then you make excuses and leave immediately.
Requires: A Thai amulet and some children's toys. Some Thai Buddhist artifacts placed throughout your apartment for atmosphere.
Note: Your guest will think you are in possession of a kuman thong or a hong pray, an unborn child baked in an oven then covered with gold leaf. If you give the spirit of this child plenty of attention, you will have great luck and fortune. But if you are neglectful….
You unexpectedly pass by a graveyard in the woods. Your friend notes the grave and wonders why it is in such an isolated location. She jokes the place might be haunted, then adds, in a creepy voice, "And it's me that's haunting you."
"Cut it out," you said nervously.
"Now I have you alone, and I can get my revenge," she says, as her affect grows dark. Your heart sinks, and you wonder if you will ever leave this place.
Requires: A graveyard. Even Chinese people who say they don't believe in ghosts will get creeped out near dead bodies.
Late at night, you go to the office toilet but discover too late that there is no more toilet paper. No one is around and you are not sure what to do, when suddenly a white hand appears from under the stall door, offering you a fresh roll.
Requires: Getting down and dirty.
On a foggy night, a taxi driver picks up a sullen rider. The passenger asks to go to a strange neighborhood the driver is unfamiliar with in the suburbs, hands over the money and gets out of the car. The driver looks down, and sees in his hand the fake paper money that Chinese burn for the dead. He looks up, and realizes he is outside of a graveyard.
Requires: Paper money.
Note: Have a phone number for another taxi home. But don't be surprised if the driver doesn't want to come meet you at the graveyard gate.
Sinological terror tips
Places ghosts appear: Graveyards, hospitals, morgues, outside a window, bathrooms, under the bed, in bed beside you, empty apartment
Things to avoid: Sleeping with beautiful women you stumble upon when lost in a strange area at night. Kindly old ladies. Relatives of people whose unwed son or daughter recently died.
Things that are not scary in China: Vampires (sexy), serial killers (foreign problem), contagious diseases (germ theory not accepted here), Western horror flicks (gross but not scary), ghost festival (these are your relatives, who are there to protect you)