Vanishing Fengdu Ghost City China

Most Chinese people that I have met are superstitious. They believe in luck, good and bad. There is importance given to simple numbers – the number eight represents luck, the number four means death. This is because the way the number is pronounced sounds similar to other words. For instance, the Mandarin word for eight is similar to the word for prosper, hence, eight is a lucky number, and the word for four is similar to the word for death. When you visit China, and other parts of Asia, there is no fourth floor at your hotel, and airline flight numbers rarely carry the number either as no one would book to fly on them.

The Chinese take death very seriously, believing that when you die you become a ghost and enter the gates of hell to atone for your sines. The word for the number seven is similar to the word for ghost, and July, the seventh month is considered to be ghost month when the gates of hell are opened and ghosts escape to mingle with the living.

On a hill above the Yangtze River, downstream from Chongqing, is an extraordinary complex of pagodas, temples and statues called `ghost city’ which signifies how ghosts are punished in Hell for the sins they committed on Earth.

Many of the scenes are quite brutal indeed, with victims being tortured, abused or punished for misdemeanours committed whilst still alive. They represent the Tao Buddhist belief that good is rewarded by good and bad is rewarded with evil.

Work began on the temples around 265A.D. and there are three main sections, bearing the memorable titles such as `Last Glance at Home Tower’, `Nothing-To-Be-Done Bridge’ and ‘Gjost Torturing Pass’.

Whilst these names may appear humorous, and the whole concept of ghosts, or spirits, being punished in Hell has much in common with Christian beliefs, many Chinese do staunchly adhere to those beliefs, and did so even during the days of the Cultural Revolution when old ideas and traditions were supposedly banished with the wrecking of many temples.

I was told when I visited Ghost City that Fengdu was the only temple in China that was not touched during the purges of the Cultural Revolution as, even though atheism was the official state philosophy, people’s beliefs were so imbued no one dared risk the punishment of Hell by attempting to destroy the site.

Sadly, now that the Three Gorges Dam is operational, much of the city will disappear below the water as it continues to rise. At its peak, the waters of the Yangtze behind the dam will rise 175 metres (570 feet) much of Ghost City will disappear forever.

Having seen for myself at the complex punishments metered out to sinners, I can’t but imagine what is in store for those dam engineers when their work causes the drowned ghosts to become very angry indeed.

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