My friend from Shanghai, China told me the following story of a well-known department store in Shanghai that was haunted.
Initials and abbreviations are used in the narration of this story.
JW (my friend): Before the end of the revolution of China, there was an orphanage in Shanghai.
The orphanage, my friend noted, was actually a foundling hospital where abandoned infants or children were taken in to live there.
JW: Anyways, I heard that they fed the children with expired food—like, food that’s fermented, or food that’s gone bad—and the rice and the dishes are kind of mixed together, and it’s very gross. The living conditions of the children were also poor.
Me: How do you know about all the details?
JW: I heard it from someone else. This is a very deeply spread story.
JW: Because of these reasons, many children died during that time. And they didn’t bury these children properly—they just dig a big hole and throw the bodies inside and cover them up.
JW: And After the revolution, of course the orphans had been removed and the foundling hospital was replaced with a department store, P Department Store. (Actual name: Pacific Department Store)
Me: (Surprised) The P Department Store?
JW: (Nods) These things get spread out just because it is a big brand.
Me: Where are the children then?
JW: They must have been sent away. The foundling hospital is also out of use. After the revolution this (the poor treatment of the children) could not continue.
Me: And then?
JW: And-eh-P Department Store. When the department store was just built, security guards patrolled at night, and they would hear the sound of a baby crying, and no matter where they look they cannot find the baby. Besides, this happened for not only one night, and many of the security guards heard it, and they were afraid, so they reported this situation to the manager. You know, the Chinese were very superstitious at that time.
JW: So they invited a Feng Shui master (the person who looks at geographic or interior settings of a place and decide whether it is “fortunate”; geomancer), and the Feng Shui master told them that the infants’ wraith are still living under this ground. He told them (the department store) that, “if you want to continue your business, you have to console these spirits of the dead.”
JW: After that the owner of the department store just invited a star—CM (real name Cao Meng)—and he sang that song called “Baby, Sorry” (translation) just for comforting these children. The department would start playing this song at 12:00 at night and keep playing it (throughout the night).
Me: And all is well after they played this song?
JW: Well, the security guards are well (not afraid anymore)—mainly they are superstitious—and there had to be someone to patrol at night. No one knows if this is real or not, and I don’t know if they still play the song—after all, the revolution had been over for sixty—seventy years?
Me: It’s interesting that they invited a star to quiet the ghosts instead of—a medium, maybe?
JW: It was said that the owner of the shop were Taiwanese—they were very superstitious.
Me: Okay—where did you hear this story from?
JW: I heard it back in China, in Shanghai, from my middle school classmates.
This story, in some ways, is a much traditionalized ghost story; the usual motifs of poor treatment during lifetime, improper burial, the unquiet spirit, and noise during the night are present in this story. The noise, the sound of a baby crying, symbolizes the poor treatment towards the children in their lifetime; like the Hispanic ghost story La Llorona, the spirit weeps eternally in the afterlife, telling the living about their sorrow and the injustice they endured. However, the treatment toward the spirit is a rather unconventional one: a singer is requested to write and sing a song for the ghost children’s consolation. Instead of getting rid of the ghosts, the owner of the department store decided to console them for their pitiful history. In some ways this may be similar to the prayers for the “souls trapped in purgatory”, opposed of an exorcism. Also, a song instead of prayers or sutras is used to console and quiet the spirits, which is unconventional.