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Haunted Travel: The ghosts of Shanghai

If you’re going ghost hunting, you can’t do much better than China. All that history, the legends, the warriors and ruthless emperors. And let us not forget the dragons.

China is one of my favourite places, so I was excited to visit my friend Niki and her family in Shanghai last week. Niki generously offered to take me on a tour of haunted Shanghai, which I eagerly accepted.

One thing I quickly learned: if you find an old building in Shanghai, there’s usually a creepy story behind it. The city is famously progressive and modern; the old is always being torn down to make way for the new. So beware those decrepit, mouldering walls! They just might have a monster inside.

Qiu Mansion

Our first stop was the Qiu Mansion, pictured above. This once-grand estate was one of two owned by two brothers who moved to Shanghai in the hopes of finding a better life. They found one after World War II ended when they discovered a warehouse full of paint cans. The price of paint had skyrocketed, turning the brothers into overnight millionaires. And were the brothers classy about how they spent their money? Not at all.

Shanghai Ghosts: Haunted TravelThey stocked up on exotic animals like tigers, crocodiles and peacocks (pity the poor peacocks). The Qiu brothers lived the high life until they disappeared with no explanation, leaving no heir. One of the mansions was razed, while the one in the photo was supposed to be moved.

However, the ghosts of the ill-fated animals had other ideas. Many workers claimed to have been attacked by phantom beasts, and had to be rushed to the hospital with bite marks. No living animal was ever found on the grounds, but a woman spotted a dragon-like creature on a construction crane. Another worker tried to kill his boss with a hammer, swearing that a “lizard-like creature” had forced his hand.

Work on the site reportedly stopped forever at that point…or did it? When we were there, we could clearly see workmen moving around the upper floors. Hopefully they don’t run into any tigers.

Jing’an Park

Unlike the spookiness of the Qiu Mansion, Jing’an Park isn’t the slightest bit scary. It’s quite lovely, in fact. But not everything is as it seems…those gorgeous flowers could very well be fertilized by the bones of the dead.

You see, the park was once a cemetery for foreigners that opened in the 1890s. In preparation for the new park, the bodies were exhumed in 1955, but a lot of gravestones had been stolen by then. It’s quite likely some of the corpses remain, and there’s been several reports of water spirits grabbing anyone unlucky enough to get too close to the park’s many ponds.

Haunted Shanghai: Ji'an Park

The Paramount’s Dancing GhostHaunted Shanghai: The Paramount

Once the place to see and be seen in Shanghai, The Paramount has been haunted by persistent tales of a ghostly dancer since the 1940s. In 1941, a young woman named Chen Manli refused to dance with a Japanese officer. Another man, clad in black, promptly shot her for this offence. The poor woman died instantly.

Several people who work there have seen the ghost dancing slowly by herself. We did try to get a glimpse inside this majestic dancehall, but a glimpse was all we got before we were shooed back out on the street. Too bad–the interior is gorgeous.

The Haunted Hotel

Haunted Shanghai: Abandoned hotelRemember what I said about old buildings in Shanghai?

This spooky, charred structure was a thriving hotel in the 1980s. According to local stories, an abusive boss locked a young waitress in a room as punishment for spilling tea on a customer. Which would have been bad enough, but of course a fire had to break out, killing the woman.

Attempts to raze the building were abandoned after construction crews and potential new owners kept fleeing without explanation. Neighbours have reported seeing the face of a young woman staring gloomily out the window you can see in the photo, even though the building remains empty. Of all the places we visited, this one was by far the creepiest.

To wrap up our tour, we visited a ritzy shopping mall that used to be a children’s hospital. Legend has it that several people commit suicide in this shopping centre every year.

I also managed to snap a quick photo of the infamous dragon pillar on the Yan’an Elevated Highway, Haunted Shanghai: Dragon pillarwhich is said to rest on the body of an actual dragon.

Have you ever visited China? Heard any of these creepy stories before? What’s the spookiest place you’ve ever been?

If you liked this post, check out this one about my visit to a Chinese ghost city. My upcoming novel, City of Ghosts, is a eerie love letter of sorts to this remarkable place. If you’d like a free copy in exchange for a review, please let me know.

 

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46 Comments

  1. Great stories! I bet you could write even more posts about your amazing journey. Thanks for sharing — I love the pillar on the body of a dragon one best.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Randee! Apparently lots of workers were killed and the highway could not be built until the dragon was appeased with his very own pillar. That’s what a monk said, anyway. And then the monk DIED.

      So now the first rule of life in Shanghai is, “Don’t talk about the dragon.”

      Reply
  2. My brother has been there – I’ll have to ask if he visited any of those places.
    The park reminds me of Poltergeist. Headstones moved but bodies remained.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, yes! I’d forgotten about that. Very creepy.

      That said, I didn’t get a spooky vibe from the park at all.

      Reply
  3. Great stories and photos. Thanks for sharing part of your journey. Looking forward to reading more. The creepiest place I’ve visited is the now abandoned State Hospital (for the mentally ill) in Fergus Falls, MN. It’s an enormous building, with several out buildings. My great-grandmother died there.

    Reply
    • JH

      Abandoned asylums/hospitals tend to be disturbing places, so I’m not surprised. Very sorry to hear your great-grandmother died in one.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  4. I love hauntings stories, thought yours were great, and really enjoyed the pic of the beautiful dragon pillar! Thanks for sharing. Scariest place I’ve ever been was my basement when I was a teen. Not haunted, but basements are creeeepy!

    Reply
    • JH

      They are super creepy! I always used to feel like something was right behind me when I ran back up the stairs.

      Thanks for telling me you love the dragon pillar photo. I was getting pretty tired of resizing and adding photos, and came thisclose to not including it.

      Reply
  5. So happy to see your post pop-up in my email. I have never been to China. My scheduled trip in 2007 was cancelled because of another trip – I fell and shattered my leg. Ghost sightings are always strange and creepy. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Denise, I’ve missed you! Where have you been? 🙂

      So sorry to hear about your leg and your missed opportunity. I do hope you’re still able to go one day–you’ll love it. China is a fascinating place.

      Reply
  6. Great stories and images. What a fascinating trip that must have been. Thanks for sharing. Hope to read more about it. Who doesn’t love a good haunted hotel?

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Dave. The book I have coming out in May (City of Ghosts) is set in China, and includes a lot of the details and experiences from my trips.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply
      • Look forward to reading it when it comes out. I’ll add it to my reading list.

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks so much, Dave! You ROCK.

          Reply
  7. I have never been to China but 2 of my friends have although they never visited these sites. I was really creeped out by 2 places…one was in Paris at the Museum De Moyer Age. It’s in an old monastery and we could go and see the excavation which was from the Middle Ages. I was in a crypt of a knight and I felt like something was watching me…totally freaked me out. The other time, I was with my ex and we were travelling back to our campsite in Selkirk. We got lost and ended up surrounded by all those hydro towers. I was so freaked out I felt like I was surrounded by death.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, both experiences sound really creepy, Birgit. I wonder what was going on in Selkirk? That’s very close to me…I’m guessing you’ve been to Winnipeg?

      I’d love to go to Paris. It’s on the secondary bucket list.

      Reply
      • Selkirk Park (sorry) off of Hwy #3 near Dunnville, Ontario. I have never been to Winnipeg.

        Reply
        • JH

          Ah, we’ll have to rectify it.

          Reply
  8. The one about the ghosts of the animals attacking people is fascinating. When I think ghosts, I tend to think people.

    The mall built on the children’s hospital is incredibly creepy to me for some reason.

    Reply
    • JH

      It is, isn’t it? Not a very interesting photo, though–just another concrete block. But inside, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Tiffany….

      Sometimes I’m positive I feel a cat brush against my ankles, but when I look down, there’s nothing there. I have lost two kitties, sadly, so I hope it’s one of them dropping by to say hello.

      Reply
  9. Great post! I can’t imagine walking through a park full of flowers if I was thinking about the dead bodies I might be stepping on. 🙂 No bravery in this girl. And haunted buildings, mansions, dark places? Nope. Not doing that either. But I always think I can be brave, and I do love a scary story – as long as the lights are on. My husband once took me to a hotel that was actually a remodeled old jailhouse, and it was supposedly haunted. Some of the teachers he works with had gone there and told him about their spooky experiences. So I went, thinking I could be brave as long as he was right next to me.
    I watched the room carefully all night long – and I do mean all night long. Wide awake. My husband was snoring away. I was not only fully awake, I was so sure there was a ghost watching me I wouldn’t take my winter coat off, let alone anything else. Still, it was fun and I’ll always remember it. It just didn’t seem fun at the time that I was scared stiff even though nothing was happening. I felt like a million eyes were on me.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s super creepy, Debi. A hotel out of an old jailhouse? What a bizarre idea. I can’t say I blame you for not taking your coat off!

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Those poor animals. Maybe they ate the brothers?

    Reply
    • JH

      Now THAT would be divine justice!

      Reply
  11. Lovely scary stories thanks JH😫Gorgeous photos and wonderful telling of these chilling tales. The first night of my honeymoon a spider 🕷 crept into my leg – since you’re asking for creepy experiences 👀

    Reply
    • JH

      Yikes! That’s the worst feeling. That, and how you feel it crawling on you for hours afterward, even though it’s gone…

      Reply
  12. I’ve never been to China and likely never will, but what a great opportunity to do so. One of my nephews is married to a Chinese girl and they’ve made several trips to China. To his credit, my nephew has also learned to speak Chinese which is pretty neat.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Arlee! My friend Niki has managed to become fairly fluent as well. The first time I visited her, I was blown away. I knew what to expect this time around, though it was no less impressive.

      If you have a chance, China is an amazing place to visit. Out of all the countries I’ve been to, it’s in my top two.

      Reply
  13. China is a treasure trove of stories. I’m, of course, enamored with the tales of dragons, but ghost stories are always interesting. 🙂 I loved Shanghai. What a city that is. You can’t walk its streets without gaping, but I gaped my way through many cities and all the way to the dam on the Yangtze. What an amazing country. Thanks for sharing the ghostly stories today.

    Reply
    • JH

      If you made it to the dam, did you see Fengdu, the ghost city? That’s where my novel is partly set, though I changed the name.

      China is such a wonderful place. I agree with you–it’s so inspiring for writers and other artists. Stories are everywhere.

      Reply
  14. Thanks for the tour JH!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Henry. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  15. The old hotel looks fantastic in a spooky sort of way! that must have been quite an experience. The ghostly animals was a really interesting bit – I’ve never really thought about the possibility of ghost animals but its a scary thought!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      I’d love to see a ghostly animal–as long as it didn’t attack!

      Reply
  16. Does the suicide legend have evidence to back it up? Maybe the prices on goods are just that horrendous.

    All these places sound creepy and exciting. If I ever make it to China, I will have to stop at some of these scary locations.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha! Well, the friend who took me around China said her guide told her the suicide story, and then I was there when her driver confirmed it. But when I looked it up online, there seemed to be some confusion as to whether the children’s hospital/shopping centre and the swanky mall were one and the same. So I kept my wording a little more vague.

      Reply
  17. That’s awesome you had a personal guide for exploring these places! I’m quite jealous, I love to check out old buildings and China is clearly amazing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lisa! It really is. If you have an opportunity to go, I’d highly recommend it.

      Reply
    • JH

      Do you? Do you REALLY? 😉

      Reply
  18. I’d love to go to China. I wouldn’t mind visiting that park, but I’d give the kinds a wide berth. 😉

    How sad about the dancing woman. And the waitress. Jeez.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it’s not a place where women have historically been treated well. (But then, few places are.)

      Reply
  19. Thanks for the stories. I enjoyed them! I got to visit The Tower of London once. Kind of creepy there.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve heard that. I’m super curious about it.

      Reply
  20. You do keep finding the most horrifying, I mean haunted, places. Or, maybe they find you? I would love to see some evidence one day of bite marks or identifiable shadows. Or photos or sound recordings. Never been to a haunted place in China before, just on a backpacking trip between Hong Kong and Vietnam. The spookiest place I have been to recently was a moss-covered forest. Lame, right? 🙂

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Reply
    • JH

      Not necessarily. I once visited a forest in Romania that is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world. http://www.jhmoncrieff.com/tag/haunted-forest/

      While I didn’t find it overly scary, it did make me really sick!

      Reply

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