Tag Archives: Chinese ghost story

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.

My Mother’s Favorite Ghost Story


This is a tale that my mother often told me and my sister when we were children. Tales like these are common especially during the Hungry Ghost Month or Ghost Festival. The Ghost Festival takes place on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar and is a time to pay respect to one’s deceased ancestors. The term ‘jie’ refers to my elder sister.



The following is transcribed from a conversation between me, (M), and my mother, the interviewee (I).

M: Can you tell me the ghost story that you always tell jie and me when we were younger?

I: Which one?

M: The one I hated the most.

(I laughs)

I: Yes. So, you used to get a lot of bruises on your arms and legs when you were younger.

M: Why did I get so many bruises?

I: You just ran around a lot I think. But so, I used to tell you that whenever you get a bruise and you don’t know why, it’s because you did something wrong that day, and there’s a ghost living under your bed that comes out during the Hungry Ghost Month and pinches you in your sleep. And you get one pinch for every wrongdoing.

M: That’s terrifying. Why did you tell jie and I that story?

I: It was funny, you girls always get so scared. It also wasn’t real, and I didn’t think you girls would believe me.

M: What things would we do wrong that would warrant the story?

I: Small things like picking up your clothes or finishing your food.



This story has always frightened me as a child, but today I can look back and laugh at the tale and also understand where this myth comes from. The myth of a ghost pinching children at night for their wrong behavior is to encourage good behavior. The behaviors that were encouraged were never significant things of not hurting someone or not lying, they were often smaller things like finishing all the food of your plate or learning to tie your shoelaces properly. I think with smaller behaviors, it’s often harder to justify because there isn’t huge moral reasoning behind it. And thus it can be easier to come up with a myth and use fear to get children to behave well.

The Haunted Art House in Woodneuk


My grandmother enjoys telling us stories of Singapore when she was younger, one of the stories she most enjoys telling is that of the haunted art deco house at Woodneuk. This story came about during one of our conversations.



The following is translated and transcribed from a story told by the interviewee.

“When you go behind Holland Road there’s the old mansion. Now everyone goes there and takes photos but last time no one went there because it was haunted. It’s still haunted, but nowadays no one cares, no one respects the place. It’s an old house build for the Sultan a hundred years ago. The house was very big for time, and it meant to be a beautiful place. The Sultan had a Scottish wife, but when she died, he left the place, and he never bothered to go back. So it just sat there. And the place is haunted, the wife never left the house because she loved it so much and never wanted to leave it. But now kids go there and take photos and they are disturbing the wife.”



This is a fairly common ghost story told in Singapore about the abandoned mansion. There aren’t many abandoned buildings in Singapore as it is a small city with limited space and the government is proactive in ensuring that all the space available is used. Thus, the very abandoned places like the mansion in Woodneuk have many myths and tales surrounding it. Historically, the story is accurate. There was a Sultan with a Scottish wife that build the mansion, though the story gets a little blurry with whether the wife died and why the Sultan left the house. I think in the case of the Woodneuk mansion, the ghost story was put in place to scare people away from visiting it. My grandmother was frustrated with children going there to take photos and felt that they should’ve just left the house alone. The architecture in the house is traditional and unique and it would stand that there are those that would hope to protect it. However, because the government does not protect the house and make it a cultural landmark, people have spread ghost stories in an attempt to keep people away. In the age of social media and with the new generations believing less and less in superstition, this no longer works effectively. And instead, the idea that the place is haunted actually drives people to go visit it.

Relatives in Dreams

Main Piece: Interviewer: When I was little, I lived with my grandparents. One day at breakfast, my grandfather told me that his mother, who has been dead for years, came to his dream last night. In the dream, she complained to her son that her feet were cold. In the beginning, my grandfather did not understand what she meant, so he decided to visit his mother’s grave. The grave was in the cornfield and the coffin should be covered by straw. When my grandfather arrived, he discovered that the straw at the end of the coffin was shoveled away by someone unknown. Then, he suddenly understood the meaning of the dream, so he put the straw back to the top of the coffin. After that, my grandfather has never received any complaints from his mother.

Background: There are lots of ghost stories in rural China. Many people there state that their dead relatives have come to their dreams to inform their living conditions in the underworld. Then, according to dead relatives’ needs, people burn some money or clothes for their relatives so they could live more comfortably in the other world.

Context: I have heard this story from this interviewer in the past, so this time I just ask her directly when we were having supper together. She was quite convinced and confident about this story because there were some similar dreams happened to her relatives as well.

Thoughts: My aunt used to tell me a similar story of her great grandfather in her dreams asking her to burn some clothes for him. In fact, I did not feel frightened when I first heard these stories. Instead, I thought they were very warm. These stories embody people’s yearning for their dead relatives. We all hope that our loved ones can go to another wonderful world and still communicate with us after death. Therefore, those stories actually comfort a lot of people by making them feel less afraid of death.


Main Piece: Interviewer: In my middle school, the movie Bunshinsaba was quite popular at that time. One day after the final exam, my roommates and I decided to summon Bunshinsaba and ask her how did our exam go. We sat around the table in the dormitory and held a pen together. As soon as we read the incantation silently, the pen started to move on the paper automatically and a number gradually appeared. Everyone was shocked by what we have just seen. Then, according to the tradition, after the rite, we should properly bury the pen so that the Bunshinsaba can be peacefully sent away, but we were too lazy to do that so we just left the pen in our dormitory. Soon, we heard a loud sound from next door: the chandelier in that dorm fell from the roof! More horribly, after checking the chandelier, the maintenance guys affirmed that there was nothing wrong with the chandelier and they could not explain why this situation happened. We were scared by it, and we thought it must be a warning from Bunshinsaba. Therefore, the next day, we bury the pen in the school’s garden, and then everything returned to normal.  

Background: Bunshinsaba was from one of the oldest witchcrafts in ancient China. Bunshinsaba is the ghost of a dead person who can come back to humans’ world and answer people’s doubts through a certain rite. It originated in the worship of a legendary spiritual goddess. Normally, we think it started from Tang Dynasty but some experts believe it is much longer than we thought. Initially, some Taoist priest used it for divination, and then, it became more popular among ordinary people.   

Context: I sent a message to my interviewer, who is one of my best friends, and asked her to tell me some unusual or supernatural things that have happened to her. Then she sent me a long message to illustrate this story and I asked for several details afterward. It was a relaxing and fun chat as she thought it was a memorable and interesting part of her school life. 

Thoughts: People do not like uncertain and unknown future, and they try to figure it out through summoning Bunshinsaba. I felt very unbelievable and frightened when I first heard this story, so I looked up some relevant information online. Some scientists explained that this is simply because people had some psychological hints during the process that make them inadvertently move their pens. More importantly, I think the story tells us not to do these ghost rituals casually, no matter how curious you are, because you do not know if something terrible will happen if you annoy the ghost.