Author Archives: tianzeli

Ghost in photography

Me: Have you ever heard some ghost stories from your parents or grandparents?

S: Yes. I once heard a scary story from my parents.

Me: Why did they tell you this story?

S:You know, adults like to make fun of kids by telling them ghost stories and see how they are terrified.

Me: What is the story then?

S: It happened in a ‘Village-In-The-City’. A boy died of traffic accident and a funeral was held for him. Several girls passed by and one of them picked a flower from the wreath for the boy. She was going to a photo studio, hence she put the flower on her hair and took the photo. When the photographer developed the film, he barely saw a boy’s face behind the girl. He waited for the girl to come back and take the photo, but the girl never returned. He managed to get in contact with the friends of the girl, only to be told that the girl had died due to another traffic accident.

Context: The information was collected in a informal private conversation.

Interpretation: Both photos and ‘Village-In-The-City’ are related to ghost in Chinese cultural background. When photography was first introduced to China, people were terrified because they thought that the soul of human would be captured by the photos. So, when the girl picked the flower from wreath, an action that was considered to be irreverent, the soul of the dead boy might just followed her and was captured by the photo. ‘Village-In-The-City’ may be a special phenomenon in China when the city area expanded so fast that the original village is unable to move away. It is kind of a liminal space where the urban area overlaps with rural area, providing a good background for ghost stories.

Taxi Ghost

Me: Could you tell me a ghost story that you heard before?

Z: Sure. I can even create a new story for you.

Me: Really? How is it like?

Z: Listen here. There was a taxi driver who often work during nights. When day, a woman in red took his car, telling him to go to a house in a small village. On the way, the woman was talking with someone through mobile phone. The driver heard from the conversation that the woman’s family was preparing a big meal and was waiting for her. When he finally arrived at the destination, he found that the woman was gone. He then came to knock the door of the house and ask the people inside about the woman. They told him that the woman died last year and they were preparing a meal to commemorate her since it was her anniversary.

context: the story was told in an informal private conversation.

interpretation: Taxi is a kind of common motif in ghost stories. There are also some stories in Japanese culture that are similar to this story, where a ghost, usually a woman, takes the taxi and then disappear when they arrive at the destination, which is usually his/her home. This may be because of the shared tradition of East Asia traditions to commemorate the death at a particular time point when the dead is considered to come back home. These related rituals and motifs are so common in East Asia sense of ghost story telling that they appeared in this improvised story by my friend when trying to create a ‘typical’ ghost story.