Friday, September 12, 2014

The Beggar and the Ghosts (Han)

One dark night, a young mendicant knocked on the door of a house.

"Yes?" asked the old woman caretaker who opened the door. "What do you want?"

"Would you have a spare room to put me up for the night?" asked the beggar.

"Normally we wouldn't mind and wouldn't turn you away, but you wouldn't want to spend the night here."

"Why not?"

"Because this place is haunted! Besides, the owner has recently died, and there's no one else here but me and a young lady lying ill in bed. Do you still wish to spend the night here?"

"Why not? I'm not afraid of ghosts," replied the beggar.

"All right . . . you've been warned. Suit yourself. Come in."

The beggar entered the house and was shown a spare bedroom.

"This will do nicely." He thanked the old woman and lay down to go to sleep.

Around midnight, the young beggar was woken up by voices. He got up to investigate. The voices were coming from the main hall. Instead of going over there, he opened the window and climbed up onto the roof, where he could easily look down and see the main hall.

And there they were.

From his vantage point, he spotted four ghosts, cavorting, raising a ruckus in the main hall.

He could see them, but apparently they did not notice him. Maybe he didn't see where he was stepping, or maybe he craned his neck too far to get a good look. In any case, he lost his footing and fell right off the roof.


He landed into a vat of lime powder, such as that which is used to prepare plaster or whitewash. He emerged bathed in white powder from head to foot. The ghosts looked at him and stepped back, afraid.

"Who . . . Who are . . . y-you?" one of the ghosts asked.

This young vagabond and beggar was quick-thinking, so he replied in a booming voice, "Who am I? Why,  I am the White Grandfather of Penglai Mountain! Now, each of  you . . . one at a time . . ."

The ghosts all together dropped to their knees and faced the beggar.

"Who or what are you?" the beggar asked the first ghost.

"I . . . I am the spirit of a cleaning cloth, Grandfather . . ."

"And you? Who or what are you?"

"T-The bamboo whisk b-brush, G-Grandfather . . ."

"And you?"

"The b-broom, Grandfather . . . "

"All right. And you over there?"

"The tortoise, Grandfather . . ."

"I see. Very well."

Morning finally came, and all was still in the house.

The beggar informed the old woman who watched over the house what had happened and how to rid the house of the ghosts.

"It's quite simple," he said. "Gather up the cleaning cloth, whisk brush, broom and tortoise shell." After she had done so, he added, "Now, take them outside and burn them!"

She did and the ghosts never returned again. What's more, the young lady bedridden by illness, the daughter of the late owner, completely recovered. The young beggar was asked to stay on, and before long he wed the house owner's daughter.

Gu Xijia. 中国民间故事类型研究 [Research in the types of Chinese folktales], Liu Shouhua, ed; Wuhan: Huazhong Shifan, 2002; pp. 288-299.

This is an ancient tale with a widespread distribution. It belongs to the Chinese classification of "Catching Ghosts in a Haunted House" 凶宅捉鬼. , and belongs to folktale type AT326E, which Chinese-American folklorist Nai-tung Ting labels "Fearless Man Defies Demons in the Haunted House" (Folklore Fellows Communication No. 223, A Type Index of Chinese Folktales, p. 58). Gu has reconstructed the ur-form of the tale presented above. Other variants with other settings exist. 

The story hints at the death of the owner and his daughter's debilitating sickness as being tied to the hauntings. This would be in keeping with traditional Chinese ghost lore. Penglai or Pengcai Mountain was reputed to be the abode of immortals in the middle of the sea. It is not clear as to whether an actual tortoise or just the shell is burnt. Of course, I hope it was the latter . . .

An interesting motif also found in Japanese folktales is the animation in the form of spirits of lifeless objects (e.g., broom, cloth, etc.). Professor Noriko T. Reider identifies such haunted or spirit-animated objects as  tsukumogami 付喪神, or to use her English translation, "tool specters." (Gu Xijia  just identifies the objects as jingguai 精怪,normally defined as "demons" but here differentiated from "ghosts" as former "animals, plants and other objects" now transformed into spirits [289].) The idea here is if a (normally) inanimate object could attain an old enough age, it would then become animated by a spirit now housed within it (see Noriko T. Reider,  Animating Objects: Tsukumogami ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth. Asian Folklore Studies 64, p. 207. [2007]). For another story of tool specters, see "The Abandoned House," the first story in "Ghost Stories From Ancient China--Series Two," 5/04/09. 

Motifs: E265, "Meeting ghost causes sickness"; E265.3, "Meeting ghost causes death"; E281, "Ghosts haunt house"; E293, "Ghosts frighten people (deliberately); E431.13, "Corpse (objects) burned to prevent return; E432, "Ghosts deceived"; and E530ff, "Ghosts of objects."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Contemporary Ghost Stories From China -- Series 3

Note: The following stories are all supposed to have taken place in Hong Kong.

(1) Tales From the Golden Valley Movie Theater

There is an abandoned, apparently unsellable movie theater in Sau Mou Ping (秀茂坪), Kowloon. The whole structure tilts to the side, resembling a coffin ready to tip over. It is the former Golden Valley Movie Theater, which, in its heyday, showed first-run films. It ceased operation early in 1992; stories about the theater, however, have not ceased. After a disastrous fire, it reopened but since that time seemed to be plagued with ghosts. Now vacant, it is still regarded today as one of the most haunted locations in Hong Kong. Golden Valley, by the way, used to be known as "Tomb Sweeping Flats" (扫墓坪), a play on its former name, "Wild Thyme Flats" (苏茅坪), both of which have a similar pronunciation in Cantonese (sou mou ping). The resemblance of the pronunciation to a most inauspicious name finally led to the area being renamed as Sau Mou Ping ("Graceful and Luxuriant Flats").

"One Rainy Evening"

A female teacher was passing the theater on a dark, wet night when she noticed a mother and daughter standing outside in the rain. The mother was bent over the daughter, wiping the raindrops off the little girl's face. The kindhearted teacher stopped and approached the pair, intending to lend them her umbrella. As she got closer and closer, something made her stop in her tracks. She looked at the faces of the mother and the little girl as they looked up to her. From their noses, eyes, ears, and mouths came ceaseless fine outpourings of silt . . .

The theater is close to an area where a fatal landslide took place in the 1970's. A coincidence?

"Tickets for Two"

It is said that there was once a mother who was unaware of the theater's unsavory reputation. Discovering how cheap tickets were, she purchased a pair for her son and herself so that they could go catch a movie. They entered the seating area and discovered they had the whole place to themselves. Once the curtain parted, the theater darkened, and the film rolled, the boy noticed how the seats all around them slowly filled with other audience members until the whole theater was packed. He said nothing to his mother. Only after the movie was over and as they were walking out did he mention how each seat had been taken once the movie began. He discovered that his mother had never noticed anyone else in the theater but themselves, that she believed they had been the only ones in the whole theater for that showing.

The Stories Continue . . .

Some kids once sneaked into the theater to see a movie without paying, as kids are known to do. While watching the movie, something unspeakable befell them, causing one of them to have a psychotic episode and then to be sent to a psychiatric ward. The closing down of the theater didn't halt the theater's fame as a magnet for ghosts. On more than one occasion, on rainy days, a spectral pale brother and sister have been seen to emerge from the sealed building and scan the street for who knows what.

Liang Wenwei, ed. 香港灵异档案. [The Hong Kong Supernatural File]; Hong Kong: Sing Tao, 2012; pp. 12-15; 拆不得的金茂坪戲院(觀塘的鬼故事) | 活在觀塘香港的神秘地方....好急ga,,,唔該幫下我啦.. - Yahoo!知識+金茂坪戲院鬧鬼?? - 香港懷舊文化 - Uwants.comGolden Valley Theatre in Hong Kong, CN - Cinema Treasures

Motifs: E265.2, "Meeting ghost causes person to go mad"; E280, "Ghosts haunt building (theater)"; E334.2.2, "Ghost of person seen at death or burial spot"; E401, "Appearance of spirits." 

(2) Brief Ghostly Tales of Hong Kong Rapid Transit

Around the world and in different cultures, journeys by train, plane, bus, and/or ship frequently involve eerie occurrences. The vehicle, whether ship or airplane or train, involves taking us from our safest sanctuary, the home, and delivering us to a familiar or sometimes unknown destination. It is during the journey itself that, when we are sealed  in a confined liminality, as we travel from one threshold to another, we are at our most vulnerable. Ghost stories involving mass transportation seem to suggest a physical defenselessness of travelers and their unpreventable psychic openness to various phenomena as they are about to embark or disembark or as they actually ride the particular vehicle in the midst of the journey. It is during this time that ghosts or other beings are seen on the land or sea, and, UFOs, if in the air. It would be easy to assume that if ghosts did haunt subway and railway stations and tunnels, the locations of these supernatural disturbances more likely than not would be structures built decades and decades ago. Yet Hong Kong's various subway stations, while far from being as old as the New York City subways or London tubes, have their share of hauntings and ghostly sightings as well.

"The Girl in Red at Yau Ma Tei Station"

The story supposedly took place in the 1980's at the Yau Ma Tei (油麻地)Station platform and made the evening TV news. Multiple witnesses saw a girl leap onto the tracks just before the arrival of a train. The engineer himself testified that he felt the wheels run over an object on the tracks. An exhaustive search was immediately conducted, but no body was ever located. However, a number of witnesses on the platform insisted they had seen a girl in red jump off the platform and onto the tracks, emitting a sharp scream as the train ran her over. Authorities had the car raised to search for any human remains; once again, nothing out of the ordinary was found.

The story now takes an unsettling twist.

Among the witnesses was a young woman who personally witnessed what had happened. This young lady was naturally very frightened by what she had seen. Shortly afterwards, she fell ill and later died. Before her death she confided to her friends that she herself had been wearing exactly the same red clothing as the girl who had jumped off the platform, the same cut, the same style, and so on. What's more she, the witness, had been the spitting image of the suicide victim, her virtual twin . . .

"Sheung Wan Station's Portal to the Other World"

It is said that there is a secret exit on Rumsey Street (林士街), Sheung Wan (上環), which, if one can go back inside, would lead one to a platform to which no subway cars ever arrive. Indeed, strong iron chains stretch across the tunnel, preventing anything from running through there, track or no track. This is the so-called "little platform" of Sheung Wan Station. It is presumably blocked off because when the subway was being built, too many construction workers reported seeing a female apparition in white roaming back and forth through the tunnel and leaping onto the tracks. One could also bet on hearing disembodied moaning through the tunnel late at night. The story goes that the authorities feared they had inadvertently opened up a portal to the other world, or "the gate to hell" (鬼門關), invited in a Buddhist priest to perform a rite and then had this section of the Sheung Wan line blocked off.

"Some Goings-on in Tsuen Wan"

At the various stops along the Tsuen Wan (荃灣) line, the restless dead have also been busy making themselves seen. Suicidal jumpers have been reported, yet when the tracks are scoured for mangled corpses and body parts, no human remains can be found. Then, on more than occasion, subway employees and security personnel have observed persons bent down on all fours on the tracks, apparently looking for something. It has gotten to the point where employees just look away or pretend not to see what would be absolutely hair-raising to any other observer. On one occasion, the train master encountered someone rummaging on the tracks and asked him what in the world he was doing. The man, standing below him, looked up and replied, "I'm looking for my feet!" The train master looked down and saw that the man was missing the rest of his torso below his waist before he, the ghost, faded away as a white silhouette. The train master was traumatized by this encounter. After a period of recuperation, he applied for and was granted an earlier shift.

Liang Wenwei, pp. 108-115; 香港油麻地女鬼跳轨灵异事件 - 要常来油麻地天橋驚現「紅衣女鬼」 - 太陽報大眾檔案.X傳說中的香港猛鬼地鐵站--上環站(林士站) - 香港新聞時事
各地方地铁闹鬼大全~~~-恐怖故事|鬼故事-八目妖; 香港地鐵鬼故~荃灣線好多.... - 優曇花三千年一現,現則金輪王出。轉輪聖王第一等的是金輪王,是不用武力用正義轉動正法的輪,以此來支配世界的理想王 - Coleman - 頭條日報 頭條網Blog City

For another urban legend about mass transit, a haunted bus in Beijing, see "The Midnight Bus," posted on 8/6/12. 

Motifs: A671.0.3, "Entrance to cave (subway) as gate to hell"; C311.1, "Tabu: looking at ghost"; E265.1, "Meeting ghost causes sickness"; E402.1.1.3, "Ghost cries and screams"; E421.5, "Ghost seen by two or more persons"; E422.4.3, "Ghost in white (red)"; E723.2, "Seeing one's wraith (double) a sign that person is to die shortly"; F91, "Door (gate) entrance to lower world"; F525, "Person (ghost) with half a body."