Of death, ghosts and haunted houses in Hong Kong

Posted on

Obviously, supernatural is never very far from hongkongese, even if most profess they don’t believe in anything… Hence topics such as death, ghosts, death or haunted houses are quite taboo in Hong Kong.

Why talking about this subject? Over the week-end, a crime took place in Hong Kong, at a luxury condominium called the “Coronation”. From the first facts shared by the investigators, a husband stabbed his wife, threw her from the apartment and then jumped in turn, committing suicide.

This is a tragic event, per se, but a twitter commentator pointed out that the only thing some local medias focused upon, was the fall in property prices resulting from the murder-suicide.

Haunted houses

It has been reported for a number of years now, “haunted houses” sell at a discount on the overheated real estate market of Hong Kong. By “haunted houses”, it is referred to those flats or houses where a crime happened or a death took place. Some real estate companies found an interesting niche by providing a search engine dedicated uniquely to finding those “haunted houses”.

Westerners might wonder what’s wrong with owning a house where someone has died. In fact, death is an event of life in Europe, where old houses have probably seen countless births and deaths. For Chinese, the word of “death”, or anything approaching death like cemeteries, etc, are all extremely taboo. This article is quite informative on the subject if you wish to understand more about it: Unexpected Chinese Customs.

From ancestors to ghosts

Because Chinese believe in the cult of ancestors and, as in many parts in Asia (think Thailand!), believe in bridges between death and living, the fear of ghosts is pretty common. Hence they shun anything even remotely linked to it like the number “4”. In Chinese, it sounds a lot like the word “death”.

But modern society brought a twist to that belief. Nowadays, housing has become less disposable than it was before the industrial area. Before, just as in Japan nowadays, it was easy to get rid of the “spirits”: just destroy the house and build a new one instead. See this comment on the article “why are Japanese homes disposable”:

Some Japanese talk about “memory of the walls”…

As destroying condominiums is not possible anymore, most of the people tend to shun those places where someone died (even if it is not obliged to reveal that someone died in the house, as in Japan).

In the case of the murder/suicide at hand, some tenants who lived on the same floor where the murder took place wished to leave anticipatively (Chinese). The landlords only consented to lower the rent as they are probably aware it will near to impossible to rent the units in the future, without a heavy discount.

Paradox of an advanced and superstitious society

This shows us that Hong Kong, while being an extremely advanced society, still kept elements of old Chinese beliefs firmly anchored. Somehow, ghosts and their beliefs are prevalent in the history of Hong Kong, with a high number of these occurrences linked to tragic accidents or to the Japanese occupation during WW II.

A list of the most famous “haunted” places has been compiled by this web site, but there are many more. A very famous one even is on Lugard road, called the “Dragon’s Lodge”. Here also, a history of deaths and executions by Japanese during WW II.

The fact is that belief in ghosts is so prevalent in Hong Kong that it can also influence the interpretation of normal health issues, such as sleep paralysis. It does also influence the way you want to conceive a “haunted manor”.  In fact, for Chinese, “haunted” is not a concept to be trifled with. Hence, when building its attraction park in Hong Kong, Disney had to tweak a bit the haunted into “mystic” (not scary at all).

To a degree, superstition replaces the lack of religious belief, and even in an “officially” atheist society, human soul cannot function in void. It needs some belief to cling to.

A selfish society?

The twitter commentator lamented the lack of compassion or concern for mental health of the victim/perpetrator in the story related initially. It is true that the other facet of superstition is often extreme materialism, and that is a plague affecting Hong Kong at an extreme degree.

Some Hongkongese justified that “lack of compassion” with impatience of the public towards people who are seen as the “have” vs the have nots. The “Coronation” condominium is one of the high-end condominiums built in Yau Ma Tei, one of the poorest areas of Kowloon. For locals, struggling to survive in “coffin houses”, someone killing his wife and committing suicide and driving down property prices by his act must have been truly selfish to the extreme. It may appear callous, but those people struggle through much worse in their daily lives.

At any rate, in the meantime, about 1,300 people showed up to participate in a lottery to award the right to purchase 4 units at a housing project…. So ghosts or no ghosts, real estate in Hong Kong does not give any sign of cooling down.

Going further…

I would invite you to take a look at the various articles I linked to in this post.

If you are further interested about some aspects of death in the Chinese culture, you can watch my periscope on the Aberdeen Chinese cemetery below.


One Reply to “Of death, ghosts and haunted houses in Hong Kong”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.