There's a spookier side to China's capital if you know where to look. Fans of things that go bump in the night can find more than their fair share of ghosts and ghouls in Beijing.
Chaonei Church, 81 Chaoyangmen Inner Street (朝阳区朝内大街81号院)
One of the most popular haunted tourism spots with the locals is this decrepit looking church, language and rest center which dates back to 1910. The story is that innocent folks died on the premises and that they now haunt the walls. The only problem with this is that there's no evidence that anyone ever died there though it doesn't stop visitors from asserting that there's something disturbing lurking there.
This is one of the most haunted looking places in Beijing. The church is trapped in a deserted garden which is wild and unkempt. It is surrounded by high walls which give it a secluded and solitary feel. There is a locked iron door that bars the garden from the outside world. Two buildings are on the grounds each in a state of gradual decay. It's been like this for nearly a decade. You can almost hear Shirley Jackson whisper; "and whatever walked there, walked alone."
History and future: It is said that the original mansion was constructed by the Imperial Qing rulers of China to be used as a church by the English living in the city. It now belongs to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association who have been looking for investors to restore the grounds to their original glory. It's been estimated that they need around $2 million US dollars to achieve this. Local developers don't seem too keen to get involved preferring to construct profitable new build apartments rather than get involved with the renovation of old buildings.
Travel Information: It's worth noting that the garden is not open to the public as a general rule. You can't just turn up at the church and demand entry to the grounds. So if you want to get up close and personal with Beijing's most famous haunted house; you'll need to work with a local travel agency to arrange access to the gardens.
The Imperial Palace, The Forbidden City (皇宫，故宫)
The Forbidden City is more credible place for a haunting then the last example; many people would have died within these walls. Murders were commonplace and committed by guards as well as imperial concubines. With over 600 years of intrigue and assassination to draw on, it's unsurprising that the guards report the scurrying of animals and a weeping female form dressed all in white during the long hours of the night.
Travel Information: If you visit Beijing you shouldn't miss the Imperial Palace. It's one of the most important and interesting places in the whole of China. In general, it's only really accessible during the day so you may not get the whiff of supernatural that you were hoping for as it's an extremely popular attraction and it becomes quite crowded at times. There are parts of the Imperial Palace which are completely off-limits to tourists so be prepared to be asked to make detours around them.
Songpo Library, Number 7 Shihu Hutong, Xicheng (松坡图书馆)
When the great general Wu made this place his home he brought his lover with him. Perhaps the demands of the court were too much or perhaps he was simply fickle but he soon grew tired of her. She is said to have hanged herself in shame and remorse. Observers swear they can feel her presence as she moves amongst the aisles of books today.
Today the library grounds are open to tourists but the building no longer functions as a library. It's an exquisite gated complex and worth a visit just for the architecture. Come later in the day to get the full spooky effect.
Zijin, 68 Wanguanhe Lu, Haidian (海定区万泉河路 68号)
We turn now to a noisy ghost. It is said that a resident of the apartment block, which once stood on this spot, killed herself when she was to be evicted. The plot was redeveloped immediately afterwards but her screams can still be heard throughout the building late at night. The developer brought in a professional ghost hunter to conduct an exorcism. It didn't work and the ghost hunter fled the building and refused to return.
The building is currently in use as a residential complex. You may or may not be able to gain access by asking the security guards politely.
Huguang Huiguan, Hufang Bridge, Xuanwu District (湖广会馆)
This surprisingly cheerful looking building was built on an old graveyard. It's said that the owner once hired a leper for a janitor; the janitor was so disfigured that the ghosts could not bear to look at him and kept away. Now it's an opera house and they say that if you drop a stone from the building into the courtyard below spectral voices will shout at you for it.
The building is open to the public and currently functions as an opera house. If you'd like to catch some Chinese opera in an authentic setting this could be a good place to do it. If you do decide to go to the performance make sure you pick up a brochure as there explanations in English of what's taking place – Chinese opera can be a bit confusing for non-Mandarin speakers without a bit of explanation.
There's also an opera museum on the site and you can watch old movies of opera when performances aren't taking place. Don't forget to check out the exhibit of opera masks which are vibrantly colorful.
The Street of Ghosts; Dongzhimen Nei (鬼街；东直门内)
This street probably isn't haunted. It's called "the street of ghosts" because of the nightlife in the area. However, once a place gets a name it does tend to attract those curious about it. Thus while there may be no hauntings there; there are plenty of ghost stories told over a beer at the local restaurants.
A Walking Ghost Tour
Our tour takes in 5 spooky sites and shouldn't take more than an hour or so to walk; though if you stop for the shadow puppets it will take a while longer. It's a short walk down Liuyin Street onto Songshu Street culminating at Houhai Park.
Start at Gowangfu Mansion. To get there you'll need to take the Metro to Behai North (that's on Line 6) and come out at Exit B. Head North and when you reach Qianhai Xiejie you'll want to turn left. The Mansion is only a few meters down the road.
Gongwangfu Mansion, Liuyin Street, Xicheng (恭王府)
Once a loving husband was based at Prince Gong's Mansion. He Shen was devoted to his wife Feng Shi; though not too devoted as they shared their home with nearly 80 concubines. Unfortunately his love could not protect her from a broken heart when their youngest son was slain in combat. The security team that patrol the grounds say that she and some of the concubines can be seen prowling the garden in the early hours of morning.
The mansion is well preserved and parts of the grounds are accessible to visitors. Be sure to ask the security team politely if it's OK to enter and to take photographs.
Leave the mansion via the first gate and just keep walking along the wall until you come to the end of the mansion's walls.
Liuyin Street, Xicheng (柳荫街)
The story of this haunting is a little less clear. There's reputed to be a small girl that hangs around in this part of town. She wears a flowing full-length dress all in red. You'll know if you've found her; just walk past her. She doesn't move but she appears to have turned 180 degrees. It's said that the woman who first saw this ghost was so disturbed by it that she collapsed and had to be institutionalized when she awoke.
There's nothing specific to look for here the girl can appear almost anywhere on the street; so keep your eyes peeled for her and don't be too disappointed if she doesn't make an appearance.
Yuan Mandun's Memorial, Liuyun Street, Xicheng (柳荫街)
A bit further down the road you'll find a memorial to a heroic soldier of the revolution. He sacrificed his own life by diving into a freezing cold lake to rescue some children. The story is told on the monument itself in pictures; so you won't need any Mandarin to appreciate his courage.
You can't miss this statue it's a bust of a handsome young Chinese soldier carved in a white stone and mounted on a grey-stone plinth. He's wearing a peaked cap. The monument is made of a dark stone and is raised higher than the statue; the carvings are etched in fine white and are extremely distinct.
Today his ghost is said to wander nearby but it's also said that he's a friendly sort and not out to scare those passing through.
Schichai Shadow Art Performance Hotel, Songshu Street, Xicheng (什刹海皮影文化主题酒店)
Take Daxinkai Hutong (大新开胡同) to Songshu Street (松树街).
If you haven't seen a Chinese shadow puppet show this is a great place to enjoy one. It's a very plush and pleasant building. You get there by walking a little further down the road from the memorial and then turning left onto Daxinkai Hutong. Then just take the next right.
The puppetry displays are a little irregular and it's worth phoning before you go to make sure that you'll catch a performance. The building is very modern and extremely tastefully decorated. It's not the sort of place where you should really wear shorts and t-shirts (though you won't be turned away if you do). It's quite upmarket so smart casual evening wear will help you feel at home there.
There's no ghost associated with this place but there is a creepy story. The former Emperor Wu (of the Han Dynasty) once asked his advisors to help replace a dead lover. So they made him a shadow puppet version; stitched together from donkey skin and wearing her clothes. Apparently from behind the screen this was a very convincing display.
The Bell Tower, Houhai Park (后海)
You just keep walking down the road and cross over the intersection to find the park. It's a nice place to take the weight off your feet and if you're lucky you may be serenaded by Chinese folks engaged in the nocturnal arts of public karaoke.
Parks in China are always lively affairs and once you've visited the Bell Tower, if it's not too late, you might want to take a relaxing stroll around and see how the locals relax after a hard day at work. Be careful with valuables and belongings; street theft is not as common in China as it is in some parts of Asia but it's not unknown either. It is almost unheard of for violent crimes to be committed against foreigners but a snatch and grab of a poorly guarded camera or expensive phone is a remote possibility.
History: The Bell Tower was built during the Ming Dynasty. When the Emperor came to see the finished tower he was less than pleased with the original bell. He said it lacked stature and was not loud enough to be heard properly; so he ordered the workers to make something rather larger instead.
They were told to have it ready by a certain date or face execution. The date approached and it was clear that they would not be ready. The fire used to make the bell simply wouldn't get hot enough to melt the metal required. It is said that a brave daughter of one of the workers chose to intercede. Rather than watch her father die she cast herself into the fire. Her father did try to save her but only managed to catch a foot and instead of saving his daughter; he saved one of her shoes instead.
If you listen closely when the bell chimes it sounds like his daughter is asking her for her shoes back…
Explore Supernatural Beijing with China Highlights
Find the most haunted places in Beijing and explore them with the supernatural in mind. We bring you the darker side of China's capital. We've also put together a brief walking tour of several spooky sites so that you can get as many thrills into one evening as possible.