There are a wide variety of character designs in Dragon Ball, but one is likely confusing to those who aren't familiar with its roots in Chinese lore. Chiaotzu, the child-like companion of Tien, is a small humanoid with white skin and red cheeks. With his psychic powers, doll-like appearance and propensity for blowing himself up, Chiaotzu doesn't exactly do much to clue the lay-fan into what he's supposed to be. While Chiaotzu is disarmingly cute, it turns out that his origins are surprisingly dark.
Chiaaotzu Is Based on the Chinese Jiangshi
Chiaotzu's design is based on the Chinese hopping vampire, known as Jiangshi or Geung-Si depending on the dialect. They are a form of undead that are not able to freely move their limbs like other vampires, so their arms stick straight out and they hop to get around. They are often depicted wearing the Qing Dynasty mandarin uniform, which bears a strong resemblance to Chiaotzu's own outfit. How a Jiangshi is created varies from story to story, but a common way is from unnatural death, a supernatural resurrection or for a person to not be buried. Traditionally, Jiangshi feed off qi, the energy of living creatures, though in more modern interpretations they have begun drinking blood.
The legend of the Jiangshi stems from how, when people worked far away from their homes, their families could not usually afford to bring them home if they died. The families would instead hire a Taoist priest to bring the person to life and have them "hop" home. Corpses would be positioned between two rods of bamboo to make them appear to be standing upright, and two men would walk the corpses home using these rods. Because the bamboo would bounce up and down, it made the corpses appear to be hopping. This method of transport was popular in the Xiangxi area, so it was called "Xiangxi ganshi," or "driving corpses in Xiangxi."
Chiaotzu Is Journey to the West's Nezha to Tien's Erlang Shen
Chiaotzu's clothes heavily resemble the uniforms that Jiangshi are said to wear. When first introduced, he was never seen walking, but floating, and many of his attacks are performed by sticking his arms out. There are also hints that he was inspired by Nezha, a character from Journey to the West. This would make sense as other aspects of Dragon Ball's story are influenced by this Chinese classic. Nezha was said to be a white-skinned baby who hung out with a three-eyed god named Erlang Shen.
When first introduced, Chiaotzu and Tien were students of the Crane School, led by Master Shen. Together, they would travel from village to village, scamming people out of their money. They later reappeared during the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament to fight Krillin and Goku, respectively. After Master Shen wanted Chiaotzu to kill Goku during his match with Tien, he refused, as Tien wanted the fight to be fair. After Tien wins the Tournament, he and Chiaotzu help the others fight King Piccolo, where Chiaotzu dies. After being wished back to life, he and Tien would train and fight together with the rest of the Z Fighters.