Asian horror appears to have been on the rise in recent years with literary events and awards lists featuring both indigenous writers and people of the diaspora—those living beyond Asia in other countries. These creatives are bringing old lore and fresh perspectives to the horror genre, addressing topics such as gender, tradition, racism, poverty, war, and oppression through the lens of their lived experience. And Asian horror stories run the full gamut from terror to triumph, from epic adventure to ethereal ghost tales, and from bloody battles to quiet suffering. Yet as rich and vibrant as they are chilling, Asian stories always present a challenge, told as they are at the intersection of cultures, languages, landscapes, and generations.
Throughout Asian Heritage Month, Kendall Reviews is celebrating Asian horror creatives, culture, and folklore in this exclusive interview series with contributors from Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror edited by Lee Murray and Angela Yuriko Smith (Black Spot Books, Feb 2023)
Today, we welcome Ai Jiang, who is a Chinese-Canadian writer, a Nebula Award finalist, and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the recipient of Odyssey Workshop’s 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship and the author of Linghun and I AM AI. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (www.aijiang.ca).
Her essay in Unquiet Spirits is “THE UNVOICED, THE UNHEARD, THE UNKNOWN, THE UNQUIET” and is a personal reflection on intergenerational trauma, tradition and duty and the resistance against it, motherhood and womanhood, immigration, and the ghosts and spirits they create.
Kendall Reviews: What makes Asian horror unique?
Ai Jiang: I think like many other works of horror that is very culture-based, the uniqueness of Asian horror stems from Asian culture and the different fears, taboos, superstitions, and beliefs it holds. What might seem horrific to one culture might be mundane for another, and I think that can be said for Asian horror as well. What western horror may portray as suffocating or gruesome may be commonplace in Asian culture. I think that is what makes Unquiet Spirits so unique as well in how it draws on Asian superstitions, creatures, folklore, and seek to understand how our cultures have influenced the creation of these beliefs, and how our cultures in turn influence our lives and the intergenerational trauma that is passed down.
KR: What do you hope readers will take away from your essay?
AJ: Tradition, responsibility, and duty, and the way they have persisted and evolved, I suppose, is what I hope readers will take away from my essay. To think further on what beliefs and values others might be instilling on their children and the reasoning behind them. What makes us hold on so tightly to the traditions that have been so deeply ingrained, even when we have no answers to explain why these are the things that “simply must be followed”? How limiting and detrimental traditional mindsets, expectations, roles, and duties might be to personal growth, and how might we become resentful or regretful of our decisions because they have been dictated by those of a different era?
KR: What was your experience of the ‘messay’ approach?
AJ: I think writing the messay for Unquiet Spirits was liberating in the sense that it doesn’t follow the formality or traditional structure of an academic essay. We are free to ramble, to explore, to reflect on our deepest thoughts and musings without worry about coherency or organization. And in doing so, we can discover things about ourselves, about those around us, that perhaps we had not thought of before.
KR: Does your other horror work feature Asian myth and folklore? Do you make a conscious decision to include Asian experiences/characters in your writing?
AJ: Many of my other horror works feature either Asian myths or has a theme that centres around Asian culture and tradition. I don’t make a conscious decision to include Asian experiences/characters in my writing, but I find they appear because those are the stories I am most passionate about, that I have most knowledge on, and that I’d like to see more of in the world. But I suppose, like many others, to see ourselves represented is what we most desire, particularly when that representation is rare to see growing up in western society.
KR: Any Asian / Asian diaspora creatives you’d like to give a shout-out to?
AJ: First and foremost, I’d like to give a shoutout to my unquiet sisters for their courage in writing their essays and speaking from the heart, from a place of vulnerability. I’d also like to give a shout out fellow Asian/Asian diaspora creatives such as Catherine Yu, Kelsea Yu, Ashley Deng, Eliane Boey, Rati Mehrotra, Judy I. Lin, Angela Liu, Isabel J. Kim, Mia Tsai, Yilin Wang, Julia Vee, Nancy Wu, Hannah Yang, S. Qiouyi Liu, Cassandra Khaw, Xueting C. Ni, Andrea Stewart, Mushba Said, Anuja Varghese, Wen Wen Yang, Vivian Chou, June Hur, Hana Lee, Trang Thanh Tran, Michelle Tang, Melissa Yue, Mia Chen, Suna Dasi, Lucy Zhang, Maria Dong, Amanda Khong, Annie Sun, Shreyas, John Chu, L Chan, Thomas Ha, Guan Un, Tao Wong, Nathan Xie, Alan Mark Tong, Amal Singh, Samit Basu, Jiksun Cheung, Monte Lin, Sam Yoo, Jinwoo Chong, May Chong, Emmi Khor, Victoria Xie, Lark Morgan Lu, Yume Kitasei, Ana Sun, Frank Wu, Lia Liao, Seo-Young Chu, Demi Guo, Toria Liao, X. H. Collins, Amber Chen, Angela Mi Young Hur, B.S. Kirk, Lilly Lu, Catherine Kuo, Rosalie M. Lin, KuroKairin, and far, far too many others to list!
KR: Here is an extract from Ai’s essay in Unquiet Spirits:
I often feel as though I’m a wandering spirit, both in the land I was birthed, China, and the land I’ve immigrated to, Canada. Settling in body does not always mean settling in mind and spirit. There are ghosts called di fu ling, bound to places of attachment or burial, and I often wonder if I were such a ghost, where would I be bound? China or Canada? Who’s to say I’m not a ghost already? As ghosts represent a strange in-betweenness, foreigners or outsiders to the world (Lee, 2004), a feeling I’m no stranger to.
KR: Finally, what’s on the horizon for you. Any news you’d like to share?
AJ: Recently, my story published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction was named a Nebula Awards finalist for the Short Story category. I’d never received such recognition before for my writing, so it’s truly a miraculous milestone for me! The story itself is also eligible for the Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, Aurora Awards, among others, and I’m also eligible for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, so I’m holding tight onto hope!
Recently, I had a small mini collection of a handful of shorts release with Tales From Between called Smol Tales From Between Worlds. In April, my debut novella Linghun will be releasing with Dark Matter INK, and in June, I have a cyberpunk novelette releasing with Shortwave Publishing titled I AM AI.
KR: Thank you for dropping by!
Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror
From hungry ghosts, vampiric babies, and shapeshifting fox spirits to the avenging White Lady of urban legend, for generations, Asian women’s roles have been shaped and defined through myth and story. In Unquiet Spirits, Asian writers of horror reflect on the impact of superstition, spirits, and the supernatural in this unique collection of 21 personal essays exploring themes of otherness, identity, expectation, duty, and loss, and leading, ultimately, to understanding and empowerment.
Website and social media links here.
Links to other works mentioned in the text here.