Chinese Tuesdays: Intercourse with Ghosts

Editor's note: Chinese Tuesdays, our weekly feature in collaboration with Sam Duncan's blog, is now opening up to submissions from anyone with a language titbit to share, though Sam will still be writing most of them. Here's one from me.


I came across 夜梦鬼交 (yè mèng guǐ jiāo) via pg-robban on this Reddit thread, who seems to have found it accidentally by searching for "dreaming" in the Pleco dictionary app. It translates as "dreaming of intercourse with ghosts". Naturally, that piqued by curiosity ...

A quick Baidu search reveals it's a term from Chinese medicine. Even more intriguing. There are different versions of the story behind the phrase, one a fable from 1971, one a doctor's reminiscence from 1996. The gist is this: A patient, in his forties, comes to see a Chinese medicine practitioner complaining of listlessness and fear of sleeping. Every night, he says, two women come to him in some form of visitation, and ... well ... they do the beast with two (or rather three) backs. When he is drained, he falls asleep, and has no energy the next day.

The phrase seems to connote both that rather unusual affliction, and the lack of, erm, spunk that accompanies it. I'll look into the meaning of the phrase more, by asking around. This will all, of course, remind Western readers of the myth of succubi – another reminder of how lore and legend translates across different cultures, like a game of Chinese whispers.