Text: “So, my mom told me this story. Back when she was younger, she worked on this project in China, and they had to knock down a mountain to do it. But the mountain is a village and people dug out holes in the mountain to live there. So, the people had to flatten the mountain, but one of the construction workers accidentally flattened a woman. And legend has it, people say, the man suddenly switched up and started talking in the woman’s voice. He said, in a woman’s voice, “Who just flattened me?” and then he would switch back to his own voice and the two voices began to have a conversation. They eventually started talking about how they would get together: the woman said that because he flattened her no one would date her, but the man told her that he would. This was terrifying to everyone who saw it, so they took him to a hospital, but no one could help him there. Then they took him to a shaman who couldn’t do anything either. Finally, they went to a butcher who took out two really big knives and hit them against the ground, telling the spirit of the woman to get out, after which the woman finally left and stopped talking. Afterwards, the man snapped out of it and had no idea what happened.”
Context: The informant is a 19-year old Chinese-American student who heard this story from her mother a few months ago, who was present at the time and place in which it took place. She would not disclose the location where the story took place out of fear that the story was cursed and something bad might happen to her if she revealed any more details.
Analysis: This supposed firsthand account expresses some very interesting attitudes towards ghosts. In spite of the perceived curse surrounding this story, and how terrified the informant recalls her mother being when she told it to her, I cannot help but wonder if the story would have been even more terrifying and difficult to digest had the woman just been crushed, an innocent life, accidentally and irreversibly taken. Ülo Valk describes that ghosts can be a way for people to process difficult, confusing, and upsetting realities. Perhaps, this ghost story was actually an attempt to assuage the horror of sudden death that the story describes by having the woman live on in the consciousness of the man that killed her. It is also fascinating to consider how the woman’s spirit was removed from the body of the man. Both a hospital and a shaman–traditional sources of healing in most societies–were useless in helping him. It was, as a matter of fact, a butcher, a known facilitator of death, quite the opposite of healing, that was able to successfully exorcize the woman’s spirit. Perhaps, the butcher is symbolic of the very reality that the story refuses to acknowledge: the acceptance of death. I believe the subliminal message in this legend is that death is a harsh, blunt reality, and despite our attempts to lessen its blow by conjuring up spirits or magical awakenings, that reality will never change, and we can only fully heal once we have accepted it in its purest form. This belief may also be rooted in Chinese Buddhist practices where the belief in samsara (traditionally a Sanskrit term), continuous death and rebirth, is widely accepted. According to samsara, no one truly dies, your spirit merely transfers from one form to another, and this story may represent a malfunction in that process, hence why it is viewed as cursed.