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Haunted Travel: China’s Ghost City

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Photo credit: Matt Ryall

 

Fengdu, China, is so creepy that it instantly inspired a horror novel.

Fengdu is a ghost city in the true sense of the word. The village was abandoned when the construction of the Three Gorges Dam dramatically raised the water levels.

There’s something spooky about exploring an abandoned city, and Fengdu–with its rusted cable cars and sinking pagoda–doesn’t disappoint.

According to legend, Fengdu got the name of Ghost City during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Two imperial officials, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping, came to Ming mountain to practice Taoism and in the process became immortals. The combination of their names, Yinwan, means King of Hell, and that was the beginning of the site’s focus on the underworld. Many of the temples and shrines show paintings and sculptures of people being tortured for their sins.

A lot of the statues are quite gruesome, depicting sinners getting their eyes plucked out, being flayed alive, or boiled in oil. At first it feels like any over-the-top tourist trap, but after awhile, the overall effect is unnerving.

According to Chinese beliefs, the dead must pass three tests before moving on to the next life. First they must survive the ‘Bridge of Helplessness’. At the bridge, demons allow or forbid passage. Good souls are allowed to pass while evil souls will be pushed to the water below. This is now a tourist attraction–performers dressed as demons momentarily stop tourists on the bridge, but finally allow them across. Just enough time for a photo op!

The dead then proceed to Ghost-Torturing Pass, where they present themselves for judgment before Yama, King of Hell. 

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Hey, you’re not supposed to brace yourself! Photo credit: BritRob

The third test is at the entrance to Tianzi Palace, where the dead must stand on a certain stone on one foot for three minutes. According to legend, a virtuous person will be able to do it, while an evil person will fail and be condemned to hell. The stone is round and slippery with rain. According to the test, I’m going to hell.

Fengdu seems safe when it’s crowded with chattering tourists, but I could easily imagine how creepy it would be after dark, when all the people had gone back to their cruise ships and hotels. That idea inspired the first novel in my GhostWriters series, City of Ghosts, in which a young man schemes to spend the night there in the hopes of writing a best-selling book about his supernatural experiences. (He doesn’t believe in ghosts and he isn’t a writer, but he doesn’t expect either of those facts to stop him.)

Have you ever been to Fengdu? What’s the most disturbing place you’ve ever visited, or heard of?

PS: To read more about my crazy trip to China, check out this post!

**With files from Wikipedia

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

40 Comments

  1. There is definitely something spooky about an abandoned town. We’re going to Savannah in July and I heard on Ghost Hunters that the city is built on dead bodies (from the Civil War)–which is why it’s supposedly so haunted. I’m excited about that trip, if you can’t tell!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Stephanie. You are my bestest blogger friend. 🙂

      That sounds like an awesome trip! Let me know if anything creepy happens, but you already have a personal story that’s better than any horror movie. It’s going to be hard to top that.

      Reply
  2. I love learning about Chinese beliefs. It’s so fascinating! I can see how this city inspired you. Good luck with your book. I’m definitely interested in it. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Chrys,

      Welcome back! I’m always happy to get a visit from you.

      Glad you liked the post! The book is finished, thankfully…just have to get through the rewrites and copy-edits. Hopefully I can submit it this year.

      Take care, and good luck with your new releases!

      Reply
  3. This is such a fascinating city, I love ghost stories and haunted places, however I have never seen or felt any supernatural activity…!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Margarita,

      Welcome to my blog! Glad to meet one of my tribe. 😉 I actually have experienced the supernatural first hand, but it wasn’t fun. It seems exciting and fun before it happens, but when it actually does–terrifying.

      Reply
  4. So jealous of your travels! Sounds like such an exciting trip.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Samantha! I highly recommend China if you get the chance. It’s the trip of a lifetime.

      Reply
  5. China! How interesting is that! I did not expect to read up on such rich history today. My step mom was Chinese. I loved her so much and always love to hear of her heritage.

    I am off to venture into Greece myself in a few weeks and cannot wait to see what I stumble upon.

    Your writing is so detailed. You’re quite the affluent writer. Keep writing! 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Rachel! I’m going to Greece for the first time in July, and am SO excited. Please let me know how your trip goes.

      I loved China. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m glad you got to hear first-hand stories.

      Thanks for the kind words. I write, therefore I am…? 😉

      Reply
  6. That trip must have been amazing I have always wanted to go to. Nina on bucket list

    Reply
    • JH

      It really was amazing, Lee. I highly recommend it. When you go, don’t miss Yangshuo. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.

      Reply
  7. Frankly, this sounds cool but I think I’m too big of a chicken to visit a site like this. Those are some creepy statues.

    Reply
    • JH

      It *was* pretty creepy, but the big crush of tourists really lessens the overall eeriness. That’s why I started thinking about how it would be at night, if one was alone….

      Reply
  8. Another great post. Looking forward to reading your books!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mary! I really appreciate your support.

      Reply
  9. Fengdu is a terrific/terrifying setting for your first novel. I like how you brought out some of the history of what happened there. I’ve been to Dachau. That is a very eerie place. It still smells like something is burning. I also visited a mental hospital that is no longer in use, here in Minnesota. It could be a setting for a novel, but I need more details. My great-grandmother was sent there when she suffered from postpartum psychosis.

    Reply
  10. If you’re already condemned to hell, just imagine how much fun you can have here on Earth until you go!*

    *I do not think you are actually condemned to hell

    Reply
  11. Fascinating post. So much history. That must have been one heck of a trip! Have you ever considered visiting Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Mexico?

    Reply
  12. I think that a ghost city like that–abandoned all at once because of the dam (but not underwater, apparently?) is eerier than our western “ghost towns,” all those mining towns that were built on a boom and died on a bust.

    There are some underwater towns in the US west, too (thanks to our dams). Those require diving to visit 🙂

    Reply
  13. I have never heard of this city or the gruesome ways people died. it would be fun to visit but I know I would burn in hell:)

    Reply
  14. I love this kind of history. It’s easy to see how this trip would inspire your writing. The now-abandoned Charity Hospital in New Orleans is one of the creepiest places I’ve seen and could definitely inspire a fictionalized horror story. I’m psyched about going to Scotland for a Haunted Scotland tour in October.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I’m so jealous, Lee! Scotland is at the top of my bucket list. Wish I could go with you. Can’t wait to hear all about it. Which group are you traveling with?

      The abandoned hospital sounds interesting too. I haven’t been to New Orleans yet, but it’s always intrigued me. It has tons of atmosphere and a great, creepy history.

      Reply
  15. An abandoned town is sooo creepy and I think the effect of this one would be so intense alone and at night. I love the story behind it. I don’t even need to try the rock test to know I wouldn’t last three minutes – I’m so clumsy lol. Great idea for a book! I so need to read this series.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      If you want to review them, Debbie, I’d be happy to send you ARCs. Any time.

      That rock test was not easy, especially in the rain.

      Reply
  16. What an intriguing city! I do think for the full effect, one should wander around at night, or at least on a rainy day or a day with few tourists. Nope, I have never been to Fengdu, but I think it would be worth the stop if I find myself in that region of China. Great setting for a book! As long as you are not the main character of City of Ghosts. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Liesbet! When I was there, it was pouring and cold and I had a cold. Such a miserable day. But I’m still glad I went. It gave me a great framework to build on.

      Rain doesn’t deter tourists in China, though. Rain or shine, the attractions are always packed.

      Reply
  17. I’m trying to remember if this was the place where they had the humungous salamander in a well. Maybe not. But the sadness of the empty towns along the Yangtze was palpable. And the hanging coffins along the cliffs were reminders that soon all would be under water and an ancient tradition wiped out.

    Some of the townspeople who’d been relocated to government housing returned to their ancestral homes and who knows what kind of chaos came after that.

    I can only imagine staying behind in Fengdu after dark. I’ll have to read your book and experience that vicariously.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, those coffins along the cliffs. Those were eerie, but I didn’t understand the significance until now. It’s nice to hear from someone else who’s visited that region of China. I adore that country so much. I’d return in a heartbeat, and I’d love to visit Fengdu again.

      I don’t remember a salamander, though. But perhaps I missed it? It was a pretty miserable day.

      Reply
  18. Sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I’ve always liked ghost towns for whatever reason. Maybe because they do set my imagination on fire. There was an abandoned thieves shack up by my grandparents cabin in the mountains, and I loved going there and pondering on the people who used to occupy the space.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, I love places like that, Crystal. I would have been right there with you. I bet it was spooky.

      I’m still hoping to visit one of those ghost towns in the Western U.S.

      Reply
  19. This does seem like a cool place to visit during the day but really creepy at night. I think the creepiest place I’ve visited has been an abandoned mental hospital that was later turned into a dorm room, which was then abandoned after there were too many reports of ghosts.

    Reply
    • JH

      Brr, that sounds super creepy, Toi. I’ve visited an abandoned mental hospital in Italy, and found the “vibes” there to be quite disturbing

      Reply
  20. I’ve never heard of it. Sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep balance on that stone.

    Reply
    • JH

      It wasn’t easy, especially in the rain!

      Reply
  21. Sounds like an interesting place. I think the most disturbing spot I’ve been to is actually local to me. The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town has a dungeon that they call the black hole, and in that place, you can just feel a malevolent presence. I wouldn’t let someone shut me in there if they paid me a million dollars to do it.

    Reply
    • JH

      That sounds super creepy, Misha. South Africa is on my bucket list, so I’ll have to make sure I check out the Black Hole when I get there.

      Reply
  22. I would love to see this place in person. Too bad it’s so far away.

    Reply
    • JH

      True, but there’s so much to see in China, and it’s a fairly inexpensive country to explore once you’re there. Totally worth it.

      Reply
  23. This sounds like a very interesting city to visit. Without having seen this post, I would never have known about its existence. I’m sorry to hear that you are going to hell, though. Maybe if you return on a sunny day, you can try again. 😉

    Reply

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