Fengdu Ghost City Cover

Fengdu, a two thousand year old ghost town

The oldest ghost town in the world is located in China: it is Fengdu.

Fengdu is traditionally considered the gateway to Diyu, the Taoist purgatory.

Diyu, the Taoist purgatory

Diyu, or underworld, it is based on a combination of the Buddhist concept of Naraka (which is similar to the western one of hell) and popular Chinese beliefs about life after death and is typically depicted as an underground labyrinth.

It presents various levels and shorts (10 in all), to which souls are destined after death to atone for sins committed in life. Each court, governed by its king of the underworld, deals with a different aspect of expiation with different punishments that do not last forever.

For this reason, the concept of Diyu is comparable to that of western purgatory rather than hell (whose doors on earth has already told you about).

Fengdu Ghost City Gates of Deyu

Fengdu's origins

Fengdu, located on the Ming Mountain, on the northern bank of the Yangtze river in Zhong County, about 160 km away from the city of Chongqing, was founded under the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - 219 AD) within a burial area characterized by dozens of temples and shrines.

Here, according to legend, two imperial officials, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping (the combination of their two names, Yinwang, is equivalent to Yen-lo-wang, i.e. the “king of the underworld”), they came to Ming Mountain to practice Taoism and thus became immortal.

The first mention of Fengdu (then called Luofeng) as a place to command "fearsome powers", or demons, goes back to a poem of the fourth century AD. But it is under the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) that the legend began to circulate that the king of the underworld lived there.

The 3 Gorges Dam and the reconstruction of Fengdu

Due to the construction of the 3 Gorges Dam, the ghost town, with its eerie atmosphere due to deserted streets and buildings, ended up submerged, but the hill and a dozen of its temples, built under the Jin dynasty (265-420 AD), were spared.

Fengdu itself (as had already happened at the Abu Simbel temples) has been dismantled and rebuilt and is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of China. Divided into two areas, called hell and paradise, it can be visited at the price of 100 yuan (about 13.5 euros) per person for each of the two areas.

Fengdu Ghost City Demons

Fengdu was built to resemble Yondu

In Fengdu, built to resemble Youdu, capital of Diyu described in ancient poems as “underground place ruled by Houtu” where “darkness reigns”, with buildings bureaucratically organized with lots of courts and registers where the names of the living and the dead were noted, the spirits according to popular belief had to pass three tests to ascend to Heaven.

Knowing how to navigate through the city and overcome the three trials could, therefore, allow the living to face with greater confidence the event afterlife.

The three trials of the realm of the dead

The first was to cross theBridge of Helplessness“, built under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) to connect the world of the living to the underworld and where demons provided to let virtuous spirits pass and throw the villains into the water below.

The second trial consisted of going to the Ghost-Torturing Pass” to present themselves for judgment before Yama (the Hindu version of Yinwang), the “king of hell”.

The third test consisted of hanging on one foot for three minutes on a stone in front of the entrance to the Tianzi palace, the largest and oldest in the city (dates back three centuries ago). Only virtuous ghosts could do it, while the wicked would be condemned to Diyu.

Fengdu Ghost City King Statue

So many attractions in Fengdu

Full of statues of demons intent on torturing evil spirits and brightly colored frescoes, Fengdu is watched on sight”, from the hill, by the largest rock-carved statue in the world, that of Tianzi, theking of ghosts”.

One last ghostly attraction in Fengdu worth mentioning is the Last Glance to Home Tower. The structure was built in 1985 and commemorates the site where spirits sentenced to Diyu could take a last look at their homes and families.

Tags: Myths, Ghosts, China