Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Three Contemporary Ghost Stories From China

Note: The third story is not for children. 

(1) Tofu, Anyone?

High school had let out for winter break, so A. and his friend headed home on foot.

The night was black, dry, cold, and no one else was on the street. The empty streets coupled with the bone-chilling winter made the scene all rather bleak and eerie.

The pair had not gone far when they suddenly saw someone ahead, an old woman.

It was odd enough for an older citizen to be out alone on a deserted street in such cold weather, but that was the least of it. What was truly strange was her clothing: she seemed to be dressed in women's clothes fashionable during the final years of the Qing Dynasty (1890-1912). Her hair was tied tightly behind her head, and she was shouldering a bamboo pole, carrying a container, chanting, "Tofu for sale! Tofu for sale!"

It then dawned on A. that he had heard this woman's intermittent chants outside his dorm window at least once while studying, as if she had been walking a circuit around the campus, coming and going and then returning . . .

"Hey, you see her?" A. asked his friend more than once.

Instead of replying yes or no, the friend gripped A.'s shoulder, attempting to push him past her. Very briefly did A. look upon the old woman's face, but she did not return the glance, for which A. was thankful.

Both A. and his friend tried as nonchalantly as possible to walk by her, and both were very relieved to do so quickly.

A. later would concede that he couldn't say for sure that the old woman he saw that night was a ghost, but certain questions remained unanswered. Why would an aged person be in outlandish nineteenth century garb and out on chilly nights like that, selling tofu, of all things, at that hour, likely circling their school campus?

Upon returning home, A. promptly told his mother all about the woman selling tofu on cold, deserted streets. His mother later took him to a temple to pray before the bodhisattvas and had him drink down a concoction made from the ashes or powder of an amulet.

A. admitted he had gone along with whatever his mother had told him to do, for he had truly been scared out of his wits by the strange old costumed woman hawking tofu on a dark street late one night.

Meiwan yige zhenshide liqi gushi: xiaoyuan guishi [An intriguing true story for each night: bizarre occurrences on campus], Zilong Qichuan, ed. Beijing: Xinshijie, 2010; p. 12.

This story comes from an anthology of what the editor and contributors claim to be true high school and college/university campus ghost stories and eerie happenings. The Chinese original was told in first person, but I adapted the narrative for third person. 

A. was presumably enrolled in a boarding school. In any case, it is not explained why A. and his friend are making their way home alone on dark, deserted streets at night. We are told in an earlier section that the school is in Hubei. A. explains that his school had all the qualifications for being classified as a "haunted campus": (i) an ancient history (with roots going back to a private school in the Song Dynasty); (ii) a somewhat remote location; (iii) a large area or campus; (iv) old buildings; (v) an attached hospital; and (vi) a neighboring lake or pond (5). The original list was of five items, with "hospital" and "lake" inexplicably lumped together. 

(2) Midnight Taxi Ride

This story happened in some major urban area in China. Let's say Beijing.

Late at night, a taxi picked up a fare, a young woman in white gown, leaving a party.

She gave him an address and off they went.

He delivered her to her destination, a massive housing complex. Unknown to both him and her, the place where he stopped, on the passenger's side, was just mere inches from an open ditch, where, in the daylight, construction work had been going on. She paid her fare and left the taxi via the right rear passenger's door.

The young woman took a step back and lost her footing, falling into the ditch.


The startled driver turned around to catch a glimpse of her, white dress and hair billowing upwards, disappearing before his very eyes.

Oh . . . oh . . .! thought the driver, his heart no doubt racing. That's a ghost . . . Yes, that 's one of those ghosts! I just picked up and delivered a ghost . . . like in all those stories . . . 

While the driver was gathering his wits and feverishly analyzing what he believed he had just seen, the young woman had managed to claw her way back up, seemingly materializing by rising from the earth, this time, by the front passenger's door.

"Ohhh . . . help me . . . !" she moaned, more out of anger than injury, but moaning nonetheless.

"Ahhhhh!" screamed the driver, pulling away and driving off as fast as he could, leaving behind a very annoyed and perplexed woman but also, later, providing local and worldwide society with yet another true tale of an encounter with the mysterious vanishing passenger!

Okay, so now you know this is not a true ghost story! Professor Li Yang (surname Li), an acclaimed professor of folklore from Qingdao, China, told me this story while he was here  in the United States for his yearlong research work. Professor Li is a very modest man who claims not to be a good storyteller, but his telling of the story was a lot funnier than my version. He is, in fact, an excellent raconteur. Another one of his stories, "The Midnight Bus," can be found at 8/6/12.

(3) There you are!

This story supposedly happened in Ningde, in northeastern Fujian Province. It is supposed to be true.

A couple with a child fell on hard times and began to quarrel. As their economic problems worsened day after day, the arguments became more acrimonious. Soon, their quarrels became violent to the point where one day, while their child was a way at school, the husband took a kitchen knife and murdered his wife.

The husband now had two major problems on his hand: disposal of the body and the creation of an excuse to explain away to his son where Mother was.

With great effort and stealth, he was able to bury the body somewhere without anyone's seeing him. He then went back home, cleaned up the house and waited for his son to come home. He wracked his brain trying to think of lie that would fool the child and stop him from probing his mother's whereabouts.

He apparently didn't have to worry. For the first, second and third days, the little boy didn't ask a single question about his mother's absence. The father thought this was very odd.

"You haven't seen Mom for several days now. How come, my son, you haven't asked about her?" he finally asked the child, unable to stand it any longer.

The boy's face became clouded for a moment and then he said, "Why are you asking that, Father?  Mom's been right behind you, laughing . . . only I don't like the way Mom looks now, Dad . . . Her eyes look scary . And Dad, how come you keep turning your back on Mom?"

The father turned around, but no one was there . . .

农村真实鬼故事, accessed 3/5/13. 

The story ends without further explanation or resolution. 

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