In the heavily built up area of Beijing’s Chaoyang District there is one place that doesn’t seem to quite fit in. Number 81 Chaoyangmennei. The two buildings on this site are, allegedly, haunted and have long been abandoned for this reason. Originally one of theses buildings was built as a church in the early 20th century. Legend says that the British priest who built the church mysteriously vanished before it was finished. When the Church of England sent a team to investigate the matter all they found was a tunnel that led from under the crypt all the way to Jiuxianqiao Lu in Dashanzi.
Later the building was occupied by a military officer. When the civil war began the officer fled to Taiwan, leaving his family behind. His distraught partner ultimately committed suicide. Some people think that her cries can still be heard reverberating around the address on a stormy night.
Another legend connected to this spooky place tells the story of migrant workers, hired by the government to tear down the buildings, having disappeared without a trace overnight. And more rumors abound that these buildings still hold something significant and suspect beneath the ground on which they stand.
All these stories evoked my curiosity, so I decided to check out the place for myself. I entered through a broken window and made my way systematically through each of the rooms on the ground floor, before climbing up the stairs to the upper levels. And I even dared to sneak into the basement of one of the buildings. I moved slowly because when I saw the cracked ceilings from below I didn’t feel comfortable walking on them on the upper floors. In my mind’s eye I could envisage breaking through the floor and falling into a deep hole of the haunted house. Would anybody ever come to look for me?
The houses provide everything you would expect to find in a haunted house: cobwebs covering the ceilings and the stairrails, shattered windows, mysterious graffiti on the walls, knocked over chairs and a dark basement. Standing in the house, suddenly the wind picks up. White curtains start waving, like ghosts floating through the room. But I’m not so worried about encountering a ghost, it’s the human beings I’m cautious of. In my head I have already prepared an emergency route should I stumble across a body (dead or alive) in one of the rooms that I enter. But all that I can find is a dog aimlessly roaming around and some traces of previous visitors. There is an old coat in the corner and a dusty shoe lying in another one. Somebody has left an unfinished cup of noodles and somebody else has lost a couple of kuai. In the basement I even find an old teddy bear and I wonder how it came to be here and what might have happened to the child it once belonged to.
My senses are super alert to the slightest noise. When I suddenly hear some children’s laughter from far away, I instantly think that the child with the teddy bear is haunting me. But looking out through a window in the back of the house I can see that there is a school and children just enjoy their break.
I need a break too and leave the haunted houses with some creepy pictures on my camera’s memory card. I’m glad that, unlike in another legend I read about the spooky church, my pictures didn’t disappear mysteriously but are still there to be shared with you.
This blog post was first published on www.theworldofchinese.com during my internship as photojournalist in Beijing, China, from November 2012 to January 2013. These three months have been the coldest and due to the language barrier and Chinese culture also some of the most challenging in my life. Nevertheless I hope to someday return to this country full of discrepancy and funny people.