The Fengdu Ghost City in China is steeped with the paranormal and cultural afterlife as well as being a big tourist attraction. Check out how the afterlife could end up after your death for the cost of a ticked.
In the Chongqing region in China, at the lean for the Tibetan Plateau and along the Yangtze river. Far from the sea, at the heart of the country, the city for the dead is built: Fengdu Ghost City 丰都鬼城, is a sort of Chinese type of Necropolis and its said this is the place where the devil lives according to local folklore. This city dedicated to its demons and ghosts also works as an amusement park for curious tourist wanting a trip to commercialized hell as well.
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The strange and peculiar nature of Fengdu Ghost City really leaves the question of: How do you really combine the experience of the eternal afterlife at the price of a ticket? Is it more of a philosophical learning experience or more like a warning of what could happen if you don’t lead your mortal life right?
People in China follows a lot of different religion, even though religion is officially banned in the country. To Chinese folk religion, Confucianism Taoism and Buddhism, the place is steeped in religious practices and perhaps this is why the way to the afterlife is so important.
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The Gates of Hell to Fengdu Ghost City
On the north bank of the Yangtze river, shrouded in smog and clouds, the Ming Mountain peaks out on clear days. At the Ming Mountain, shrines, monasteries and temples have been built in honor of the underworld over centuries with cute names like “Last Glance at Home Tower,” “Nothing-to-be-Done Bridge,” “Ghost Torturing Pass”.
The place were the Fengdu Ghost city is built on today used to be an ancient burial site with its shrines and temples and an ancient town. It had to be rebuilt further and further uphill in the mountains as the water from the Three Gorges Lake kept rising. So what is this place in all its honesty?
Fengdu Ghost City is the Gate of the Hell in traditional Chinese literature and culture. The city itself is mention in the great folk tales of Chinese tradition such as in Journey to the West, Apotheosis of Heroes and Strange Tales of a Lonely Studio, all three works is a big part of Chinese literature and cultural heritage and have a direct reference to the place.
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To call the Fengdu Ghost city a proper city is perhaps a bit misleading as it mainly function as an amusement park and there is no one living there anymore. Well, except from the ghosts and the demons it is built for of course. When you are entering the city, you are passing statues of the Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常), which are two Chinese mythological deities in charge of escorting the dead to the underworld. Then you are at the mercy of the demons that exists in the underworld and your own effort on getting out of there.
To get into the city you have to get a ticket at the counter ahead and it tended to be around a 100 RMB per ticket. They used to have customers put money into a water-filled basket as they believed that the paper money would float if they were human and sink if they were ghosts.
How Old is the Fengdu Ghost City
To be called a ghost city, the place, the statues and the temples must be pretty old, right? Well, according to legend the location where the city is built certainly has an old story. Today, some of the building have been rebuilt or added on in modern times, and some of the oldest have been there since previous dynasties.
The story of Fengdu Ghost City goes back for nearly 2000 years according to the legend. It is said that the city got its reputation as a place for dead people and the king of hell during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
The Fengdu Ghost City got it name in the Eastern Han Dynasty period (206 BC to 220 BC), when two men came to the Ming Mountain to practice Taoism and to live as recluses away from the big society. The two men, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping ran away because they were bored of the political life and lived their life practicing taoism at their own accord in the alleged haunted mountains. According to legend they became immortal and the legend of the strange things happening there kept piling up.
Word soon spread of this no small feat that two men had reach the stage of immortality and people came to seek what they had found. Their two names, Wang and Yin combined means King of hell or King of the Underworld. And this was the beginning of the focus of the underworld, and the building of Fengdu Ghost City started and continues to grow today.
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The city we can see and visit today though wasn’t really built into the mountain before the Three Gorges Dam project was started in the early 1900s and built slowly over the course of the century. Because of this massive project they had to build Fengdu Ghost city higher up because of the flooding the dam caused to the area around.
The Ghosts and Demon of Fengdu Ghost City
So what do you do in a city built for ghosts? This particular place could perhaps work for just its vibrant green scenery. Perhaps the main purpose of the park is helping people learn of the old belief system of what comes next after death. One thing at the park at least is testing your living self of the trials the dead spirits can come face to face with in hell.
Walking in the Fengdu Ghost City there are all reference to the afterlife in terms of architecture and decorations in the city. The statues all depicts ghosts and devils, representing what happens to people not leading good lives, and how Chinese people saw, and at times, still picture the afterlife. It also showcases what is considered a good moral.
Women being thrown in boiling cauldrons for their sins, children being spanked after being naughty and people being poked, stabbed, tortured and judged for their crimes is some of the attractions you can observe when visiting. Perhaps you will even be condemned yourself. In many ways, just as fun as Disney World, bring the whole family.
Pictures of punishments are big in this city, and the way the Gods tortures the wicked. The pictures hang side by side of paintings of scary demons and bureaucrats passing judgement over the sinners. The eerie pictures fills the walls, the roofs and the gardens across the whole city of ghosts.
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Side by side with these ancient traditions and buildings is a rather tacky theme park of a standard haunted house with people in masks, just doing their best to entertain their guests. Can it be something more in this day and age were the idea of the afterlife has become rather vague and in the long unforeseeable future? Because it didn’t start out as an amusement park. It started out as a cultural exploration of what hell is and what the afterlife will look like. In many ways, it still is.
The Three Tests to an Afterlife
In Chinese traditions Diyu is some sort of purgatory that punishes and renews spirits to prepare them for reincarnation to a new life. A similar thing is Naraka, a Buddhist concept of hell similar to Diyu. All dead must pass three tests before crossing over to the next life. And at Fengdu Ghost City you can put yourself to the test of how you would do ass you can reach Youdu from here, which is the capital of the underworld.
The first test the visitors have to overcome is crossing the “Bridge of Helplessness”. The object is a stone bridge testing good and evil people. There are demons blocking the passage, letting only the worthy pass. Those who fail are pushed to the water below. The object of the test is to cross the test in fewest steps, and of course, not to fall into the water below. In the Fengdu Ghost City it is now a fun test to do, but it actually stems from an old taoist practice to have a good fortune. This particular bridge was actually built in the Ming Dynasty between the 1300s and 1600s.
After the “Bridge of Helplessness” the dead must continue to the Ghost-Torturing Pass were they meet Yama or Yanluo Wang who is the King of Hell. He is the one passing judgement. In this area there are a lot of sculptures with demons.
The third and final test takes place at Tianzi Palace on top of the mountain where the dead stands on a special stone on one foot for three minutes. Only virtuous people will manage this while evil people will fail and go to hell. Tianzi Palace is the largest and oldest building and it is about 300 years old.
Tourists in Hell and the Ghost City Sinking
In recent years the Fengdu Ghost City has become a big tourist attraction with boats carrying tourists up the river and taken to the mountain where they can walk among the statutes relating to Diyu and Naraka that symbolizes the underworld or Hell in Chinese mythology and Buddhism. It attracts many tourist, curious foreigners as well as Chinese visitors wanting to learn about ghost culture and the afterlife.
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After the building of Three Gorges Dam is built the Fengdu Ghost City will be an Island of itself, but parts of the city will be submerged in the water. They have also made some recent addition to the city.
In 1985 they built the Last Glance Home Tower, and according to legend, this is where the dead can have one last look back at their home and families before crossing over. Maybe one day, the Fengdu Ghost City itself will be something more of a legend than an actual place.
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