Background: The interviewer and the informant recall a ghost story that circulated in their primary school in Qingdao, China.
Interviewer: Can you retell that Beijing bus story?
Informant: Yep. There’s umm there’s a guy, and he went on a bus. umm and then the bus got to a station, and then several people came onto the bus, and then suddenly there’s an old grandma walking towards him. And she sort of forced him to get off the bus. He said, this isn’t my station yet. That grandma didn’t give a damn and was like, pulling him off of the bus. And then after they got off, she said to him, those guys that just got on, they were ghosts, you see, they don’t have feet……and then the next day he picked up a newspaper, he found that the bus rushed into a mountain valley, and everyone on that bus died. He felt like he passed the gate of hell ‘cause that grandma literally saved his life.
Interview: Ohh I remember those guys wore Qing Dynasty robes too, like the ones Qing zombies wore on TV!
Informant: Yep yep yep, and oh yeah then the next day when the police found the bus, they opened the gas tank and it was filled with blood…
Interviewer: whooo I still get chills listening to this story…
Informant: Yeah and I heard it was adapted from a true crime story.
Interviewer: Oh really? I think xxx told me that story the first time, but then two years later I saw something very similar on Baidu Tieba [note: a popular blog site, the Chinese equivalence of Reddit].
Informant: Yeah yeah I saw the post too. It really blew up everywhere hahaha. I forgot where I heard about the true crime version, but it was actually a murder case. I think it was a guy, he also was taking a bus ride, and then a few other guys went onto the bus too, and then it was still an old woman who pulled him off of that bus. It was like she saw blood on those guys, and they probably just killed somebody, and they were trying to ditch the body or something like that. Anyways the next day the bus rushed into a valley too. Basically they controlled the bus driver and hijacked the bus, but it lost control and fell down the road.
Analysis: This was a very popular story among fourth and fifth graders in this primary school. I think the reason its horror works particularly well for this demographics is because that bus was the most common form of transportation for students at that age. It serves as a metaphorical cautionary tale to alert the young students of the danger with riding the bus alone.
This is also interesting, because the ghost story is created on the basis of an urban legend. The two versions are essentially the same story, but with slightly different elements. This shows that folk tales are very prone to variation and multiplicity.