Are you an atheist? Do you believe that ghosts really exist? As a city with a rich past, Beijing has quite a few spooky places that are thought to be haunted by the deceased. While some of the stories are groundless and have no actual proof, the sheer bone-chilling factor attached is enough to make the place attractive in a mysterious sense. One thing that can be said for sure is that next time you walk past Prince Gong’s Mansion and get shivers down your spine, you are not alone.
The area of the western six palaces: the Palace Museum is partially opened to the public. Previously, the area of the western six palaces was closed. It was said at the mid night, ghosts who died of persecution haunted there. Guards of the Palace is said to have ever seen mice in pig size which was said to be the royal beast used to guard the palace. Some doorman said he saw court maids and eunuchs passing by, and heard music played at every dead night.
Huguang Guild Hall [Photo by Ai Ting/Qianlong]
Huguang Guild Hall: Huguang Guild Hall is well known in Chinese modern history. It was a place where gifted scholars gathered in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was even known to more people after Tan Sitong was put to death at the Caishikou. But it was also a ghost haunted place.
The place was a grave yard before the construction of the Huguang Guild Hall. Ghost cries and fires from hell are said to have been seen and heard every night here until an old leper was employed as the janitor at the mansion a rich businessman built here in the early years of the KMT reign. The guard is said to have a face of a lion, no body dared to talk to him. But after the death of the guard, ghost came back. They cast stones to those with bad behaviors and unfilial families.
Address: Huguang Huiguan Hufang Bridge, Xuanwu district. Beijing.
No.81 Yard: Located in Chaoyang district in Beijing, Chaonei Church is believed to be connected with a ghost story. Legend has it that a British priest who originally constructed Chaonei disappeared without a trace before the church was completed. A team was then sent to investigate by the Church of England, only to find a strange tunnel from under the crypt to Jiuxianqiao Lu in Dashanzi. Later, before the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the church became the residence of a National Party officer, who was never home. And as a result, his wife was so distraught that she committed suicide in the church. Some nights you can hear her screams in the corridors of the church. Today, although it is abandoned, some who pass by experience a feeling of unease.
Address: Chaonei Church 81 Chaoyangmennei (On the north side of the road, opposite Simin Primary School), Chaoyang district.
China University of Geosciences - Wudaokou: Caishikou was an execution ground in the past. But criminals were sent and buried at Wudaokou if no one claimed the corpse. It was not until the 1940s when the China University of Geosciences was built, the place was a mass grave yard.
Address: No 29, Xueyuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing
Beixinqiao: The legend has it that there is a whole dragon imprisoned underneath the capital city’s ground. The door to its prison is located in downtown Beijing, near the lantern-stringed restaurant street Gui Jie (簋街) and the Line 5 subway station Beixinqiao (北新桥).
The prison door is, in fact, a well, and the dragon imprisoned down below by large chains. If you wonder how it’d be possible for a dragon to fit into a well, aside from there being a dragon in the first place, the “eye of the ocean” solves the size issue. The well is in fact an “eye of the ocean” (海眼), a term that refers to a seemingly endless water hole in the ground that reaches deep into the earth , believed to reach into the depth of the sea and the eye of the ocean on land.
According to legend, the dragon has been chained underground since the founding of Ming dynasty when the city of Beijing was built. Liu Ji, a legendary figure with insurmountable knowledge in the mystics , poetry, and strategizing among others, is rumored to be the person who identified the “eye of the ocean” as well as the dragon. The ancient dragon (in some versions a dragon family) had occupied the land of Beijing long before they arrived to set up capital, and was infuriated at the intrusion of his home. He vowed to use his powers to flood the whole city (contrary to Western fire-breathing dragons, Chinese dragons command water and rainfall). Anticipating the dragon’s revenge, Liu Ji asked another legendary figure Yao Guangxiao to defend the city they built while he was gone.
Finally, Liu Ji left Beijing to return to the emperor. With the only person he feared gone, the ancient dragon teamed together with his son. Together, they commanded water to flood out of the “eyes of the sea”. Beijing was on the brink of destruction. Yao rushed over to fight the dragons, yet he could not defend against the two dragons’ attacks. Luckily, the Song Dynasty general Yue Fei came to his aid and joined the fight. In the end, they defeated both dragons. Yao chained the father into an “eye of the sea” at Beixinqiao, and the son into an “eye of the sea” at Chongwenmen.
Imprisoned in the well, the ancient dragon inquired Yao when he would be released. Yao promised to let him out when the bridge becomes old. Thus, the place is named “Beixinqiao” (North New Bridge) so it would never age. A temple of Yue Fei was also established to guard the well. As for the younger dragon, Yao told him he would come out when he hears the sounds dian, an ancient copper instrument that announced the opening and closing of the gate. However, from then on, Chongwenmen became the only gate to not sound off dian but instead a bell, so that the dragon won’t ever see the light of day.
Address: northeast corner of the Beixinqiao crossroad
Songpo Library: Seated in Shihu Hutong No.7, Xicheng District, Songpo Library is special in Chinese history since it was the home of Wu Sangui, the general who abandoned Ming Emperor Chongzhen and defected due to his love for his charming courtesan Chen Yuanyuan, a truth proving the saying, "a beauty can ruin the country." However, the girl soon felt heartbroken and ended her life by hanging herself when Wu Sangui got tired of her after he took up a cushy post in the Qing court. And for the past 100 years, the girl has been haunting the hutong.
Address: Songpo Library, No.7, Shihu Hutong, Xicheng District.
The Bell Tower: The Drum and Bell towers are famous landmarks in China and were an alarm system for citizens of Beijing until the 1920s. However, legend goes that the creation of the Bell Towers famous bell almost ended in tragedy. According to the plaque on the walls of the Bell Tower, just after it was completed the emperor ordered artisans from around China to come to Beijing to create the bell for the tower. However, the artisans had difficulty casting the bell and after three years the Emperor lost patience. To ensure the job would be completed, he gave the artisans 80 days to finish casting the bell, if they failed to do it within the time limit they would all be beheaded. Regardless of this extreme form of motivation, the craftsmen continued to fail and accordingly began to fear for their lives. This included the coppersmith Hua Yan who was in charge of the project. Hua Yan’s 16 year old daughter Hua Xian also felt that there was something odd about the multiple bell casting failures and suspected that there was a spritual reason behind the problems. Worried about her father’s life, Hua Xian took it upon herself to investigate the bell casting furnace area, in the hope that she would find a solution.
On the day of the the deadline the artisans still were running into difficulties and hadn’t been able to successfully cast the bell. While both court officials and artisans had come to look at the furnace which was smelting the copper, it was glaringly obvious to the artisans that something was going wrong. Despite the blazing furnace the copper was not hot enough and even if they tried to cast the bell they would certainly fail, as they realized this the shadow of death seemed to settle even more firmly on the doomed artisans. Out of the blue, Hua Xian rushed up to the furnace and pointed to the sky crying “Look at the sky! Whats that?”
Everyone looked up to see colored clouds approaching but as Hua Yan turned back to his daughter Hua Xian dived into the furnace. Hua Yan desperately tried to grab his daughter, but he was too slow, only managing to grab one of her embroidered slippers before she disapeered into the flames. Suddenly, the flames in the furnace blazed and the molten copper came to the right temperature. Hua Yan quickly called out the order for the bell to be cast even as tears rolled down his cheeks, completing his job as he realized what his daughters intentions were. Because of Hua Xians sacrifice the bell was sucessfully cast, the emperor was satisfied and the lives of all the artisans were saved.
The bell in the Bell Tower [Photo by Ai Ting/Qianlong]
Here the legend varies according to sources; some say Hua Xian threw herself into the furnace because it would create the additional heat necessary to cast the bell, others say she had realized the gods were angry and her sacrificing herself in the flames appeased their anger. Either way, the outcome of Hua Xians’ bravery was the same, Hua Xian was declared a goddess and the Temple of the Golden Furnace Bell Casting Goddess was built at 24 Xiaohuihu Hutong in her honor. (But still, don’t try this technique at home).
The plaque on the wall of the Bell tower claims that the temple still exists in this spot but it remains to be seen if the bell casting goddess still resides in Beijing helping craftsmen in dire straits or simply watching the bell she gave up so much for.