Red Embroidered Shoes (红色绣花鞋), A Chinese Horror Story


Ming and Hong were from the same class in middle school and had always been neighbors. The two grew up together and were close friends who walked home together every day. When they were ninth graders, the school’s evening study hall was extended to 9 PM due to heavier course load. Unlike their peer who had parents to escort them, Ming, the braver one, escorted Hong back every night. On their way home, there was a graveyard, and they sometimes saw will-o’-the-wisps floating around there, but the two got used to all the peculiarities and even joke about them.

It was an ordinary night just like the others, Ming and Hong walked past the graveyard after a drizzle. But this night, one could see no moon in the sky and it was dark everywhere. Ming was usually fearless and sometimes sang aloud for Hong to be courageous, but this night he couldn’t for some reason. Out of nowhere, an old woman in shabby clothes walked towards them from the other end of the road. Hong clenched to Ming and trembled, said: “Look at her shoes!”

Ming looked down and saw a pair of red embroidered shoes. The old woman’s clothes were all black. She had pale skin and lifeless eyes that gleamed in the dark. Though the two couldn’t see much in the dark, every detail of her red embroidered shoes was clear as if only the shoes were strangely lit in the night.

Ming and Hong walked past the old lady quickly and felt a chill. The two were so startled that they ran back home as fast as they could.

Hong asked if Ming could stay for the night, Ming said yes, given Ming’s family had been away for the week, and accompanied Hong to sleep. At midnight, Hong was woke by the sounds of his parents returning home from a long day’s work. Hong pled his dad to pick him up starting tomorrow, and asked if he saw Ming.

“Ming? When did Ming come?” asked Hong’s dad.

Hong was baffled: “He was just there before I fell asleep!”

Hong’s dad comforted Hong that Ming must have gone home while he was asleep.

However, when Hong went to school the following morning, there was no sign of Ming. So Hong left school early and visited Ming’s family with his dad, but the house was empty. 

Having been worried for two days, Hong heard that the local police had found a dead body in the river. The body wore a pair of red embroidered shoes. It was Ming.

Ming and his mom only had each other. After Ming was gone, Ming’s mom went delusional so Hong spent time accompanying her when he was free.

It was Friday night when Hong watched a Japanese horror film with Ming’s mom. There was a shot of someone standing there with blood dripping down their legs and stained their shoes red. Ming’s mom screamed out of horror, so Hong had to calm her down before running back home. By the time Hong walked past the graveyard, it was already dark and chilly. Hong was so scared that he could sense his heart pounding in his chest. The imagery of red embroidered shoes soaked in blood kept flashing back. Suddenly, someone grabbed Hong from running. Hong turned back and saw Ming’s mom. Her lifeless eyes gleamed in the dark. Hong was almost scared to death but managed to get away. The moment he arrived home he turned on all the lights to cast away the darkness. But the lights were red. Hong fainted.

When Hong woke up he had his parents by his bed. Hong’s mom apologized for switching on the red emergency lightbulbs because the regular lightbulbs didn’t work last night. But Hong wouldn’t listen, he kept murmuring: “Red embroidered shoes… I want red embroidered shoes…”

Hong’s dad decided to drive Hong to the hospital with his motorcycle. By the time he rode past the graveyard, he could feel Hong no longer leaning on his back. Hong’s dad looked back and saw no sign of his son.

Hong’s dad recruited all the men from the neighborhood to search for Hong in the graveyard. Someone from the search party swore that he saw Hong with Ming’s mom, wandering in the graveyard, but as soon as he ran towards them the two disappeared. Hong’s dad had to report to the police. The police patrolled this area every night until one night, a pair saw a teenage boy walking towards them with a middle-aged woman from the other end of the road. As they walked close, one whispered: “Look at their shoes!”

The other looked down and saw two pairs of red embroidered shoes. The pair was so frightened that they paced faster to walk past the teenage boy and the middle-aged woman. The moment they passed, they felt a chill.


The informant is a 24-year-old female who was born and raised in China, and currently studies in the United Kingdom. The informant first heard the story of red embroidered shoes from her middle school peers when they were all about the same age as the protagonists of the story, Ming and Hong. The story is set to happen to middle school teenagers she could relate to. After hearing the story, the informant couldn’t find the courage to walk home by herself for a while and remembered the story vividly due to horror.


Given the age group of the audience, it seems natural to me that middle school teenagers were drawn to a horror story with relatable settings. The evening study hall has been a part of a Chinese student’s daily schedule as required by most Chinese schools, and it was no surprise that teenage students came out with a horror story to address their fear of walking back home alone at night after evening study hall ends. It’s also possible that one of the parents first came up with the story to warn their children about the danger of returning home alone at night and to remind them to always be alert on their way, because many Chinese school-age children walk themselves home when the parents are too busy to pick them up. In the informant’s case, the story’s warning message was proved to be effective; the informant pled her dad to pick her up after evening study hall just like Hong did in the story, teamed up with peers to walk together, and even at times she had to walk alone she walked quickly and carefully. 

Besides its thematic purpose, the story appeals structurally with some typical motifs of Chinese horror such as the red embroidered shoes. According to the informant, Chinese horror is personally most frightening to her because it often involves outdated traditions or folk objects (such as the red embroidered shoes) that are regarded as nuanced or peculiar from today’s view. Notably, supernatural agents including the cross-culturally common will-o’-the-wisps and the old woman (which is likely a ghost), alongside the graveyard touch on the theme of blurring life and death, which is regularly found in Chinese horror narratives because the culture emphasizes death. Furthermore, the story embodies chromatic symbolism, and symbolizing blood with the color red is not only cross-culturally relatable to a wider audience, but also has a horror story connotation that helps establish a dreadful ambiance so the story is more easily remembered and emotionally impactful.