Is derelict Beijing mansion haunted?
A three-story mansion that has sat dilapidated and deserted for years in the heart of Beijing is haunted, neighbors say.
The New York Times
BEIJING — It was 1949, and the Communists had just defeated the Nationalists in the civil war. Legend has it that during the losing army’s rushed retreat to Taiwan, a high-ranking Kuomintang official living in Beijing abandoned his wife, leaving her to fend for herself as the Communists marched into the city. Devastated, the wife (some say she was his concubine) hanged herself from the rafters of their three-story French Baroque-style home.
The spirit of the spurned woman, local residents say, has haunted the house ever since.
Today, with its floor-to-ceiling cobwebs and crumbling floorboards, the house, Chaonei No. 81, certainly seems like the ideal breeding ground for paranormal activity. However, unlike the famously ghost-ridden Forbidden City, which hosts droves of tourists every day, the Chaonei house has sat dilapidated and deserted for years, a quiet enclave amid Soviet-style apartment blocks and glittering modern buildings.
According to local legend, the mansion was built by the Qing imperial family as a church for British residents of Beijing. It could not be more of an anachronism, with its red brick facade, Mansard roof and stone quoining. Yet, there has been a surge of interest in the house in recent years, with videos circulating online and word of mouth building about a new film set at the house.
Inside, the intricate banisters and fragments of tile flooring are the only remaining signs of the mansion’s former elegance. Beer bottles and cigarette butts are strewn about, much of it left by the many (“too many” says a guard) young adventurers who sneak in at night. Graffiti warn visitors to stay away.
“Even in the 1970s, people thought the house was haunted,” said Li Yongjie, who grew up in a traditional alleyway behind Chaonei No. 81. “As children, we would play hide and seek in the house but we didn’t dare come in by ourselves.”
“Even the Red Guards who lived in the house during the Cultural Revolution got scared and left,” Li, 50, added, referring to the militant activist youth loyal to Mao Zedong in the late 1960s.
Despite the buildings’ location in the center of Beijing, where a small courtyard home easily sells for several million dollars, there are “no officials plans” to do anything with the neglected buildings, said the Rev. Liu Zhentian of the Beijing Catholic Diocese, the property’s current owner.
The buildings are now on a historic preservation list, so they can only be renovated, not torn down. And the church has so far been unable to find a tenant willing to undertake the cost of renovation, which church officials have estimated at more than $1.5 million.
Both the police and the Catholic diocese have rejected the Chaonei ghost tale.
“In terms of the history, there is no such thing as a Kuomintang official living there,” Shi Hongxi, secretary general of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Beijing, which oversees the diocese, told a local newspaper in 2009. “The whole story about the house being haunted is complete nonsense.”
Whatever the truth, the various narratives swirling around the house have only enhanced its allure.
“Death and religion — these are always good starting points for potential ghosts,” said Daniel Newman, the founder of Newman Tours, which offers a ghost tour of supposedly haunted locales in Beijing.
Chaonei No. 81’s history is more established after 1949, when it came under government control. For decades, the buildings shifted between use and disuse, as the property rights were passed between a number of government ministries.
The rights to Chaonei No. 81 were handed off to the Beijing Catholic Diocese in the late 1990s. The buildings were close to being demolished when church officials stepped in, citing the distinctive architecture as well as the possibility of housing the Vatican Embassy there if relations between the government and the Vatican were ever re-established, according to Liu Yang, an expert on religious architecture in Beijing.
Since then, the house has sat neglected, apart from a few occasions when it was rented out for film and television productions.
“There are so few of these traditional buildings left,” said Fu Qian, an artist who came to explore the house one afternoon.
“They should do something with it, it’s very sad,” he said.