Friday, March 6, 2009

Bones Buried Beneath My Blackboard

Today I finished showing my students James Wan's very frightening film, 'Dead Silence'. After a short lecture on basics of the supernatural, I had them practice writing and telling ghost stories. Most of the students regurgitated various plot lines from Japanese and Hollywood horror films.

A few students gave me something more interesting... more substantive, if that word can apply to ghosts.

--Apparently the university where I teach (and the whole 'university city' that the city government has had built from what was recently rice fields) is built on one of the many mass graves scattered around Nanjing, where the Japanese buried their victims during World War II (and the famed 'Rape of Nanking' which left aproximately 300,000 citizens of the city dead). As a result, several buildings intended as lecture halls or dormitories have repeatedly collapsed. The Feng Shui masters claim that the spirits of the restless dead in the soil beneath are the culprits. Also, there are supposedly elevators that open and close for ghosts, but I think I'll believe that when I see it.

As if I didn't have enough reasons to disparage the relocation of this university, the place is haunted too!

--One girl told me a story about her family. Apparently her grandmother had three sons, but the last one was not wanted by the family (something must have been wrong with the child, because normally Chinese families are ecstatic to have sons). Her grandparents took the baby boy to a river and drowned it there.

Some years later, they had a baby girl, my student's mother. Now, recently the grandmother had died, and the family contracted the services of a man who could 'call back the dead from paradise' because they wanted to talk to the ghost of the grandmother. But instead of the grandmother, the psychic was contacted by the ghost of the little boy that they had drowned so many years ago. The little boy shouted at them, and particularly at my student's mother, "because she took his place, and lived the life that should have been his". Then the ghost of the boy told them that he had killed his mother (the grandmother), had cursed her in some fashion, and this is why the old lady had recently died.

--One last grisly story, not about ghosts: ten years ago in Nanjing, there was a female student who left her university one night and three days later hadn't returned. The morning of the third day, her fellow students saw a picture of her head (decapitated, apparently) in the newspaper. The police were soliciting information as to whom she was. The students went to the police and learned that only the head and arm had been found. The arm was found in a pile of trash, cut up cleanly into precise little pieces, as only a butcher or doctor could have done; the arm was found by a poor woman who didn't recognize the white little pieces of meat as human, and thanking her luck for discovering such good, unspoiled meat, took the remains home to eat. To her horror, as she washed the meat, she discovered the tip of a human finger among the pieces. The police questioned the butchers of Nanjing, but no clear suspect was ever found.

The story has the sounds of urban legend to me, although my students (Nanjing locals, both of them) assured me that this indeed happened ten years ago. I wonder, though, if a newspaper here in China would really publish a picture of a decapitated head in order to ID a body.