Fengdu Ghost City: China’s Portal to the Underworld

There is a city where ghosts supposedly dwell. The streets are lined with vibrant greenery but also uncanny statues of spirits and devils. The temples there are not places for worship, but places for fear, as they contain paintings and dioramas of people being punished for their sins. Some of the landmarks include the “Door to Hell” and the “Ghost Torturing Pass,” and above it all, on a nearby hill, the King of Ghosts overlooks the entire city.

This might sound like something from a fantasy movie, but there is actually a place like this in Chongqing, China called Fengdu Ghost City (丰都鬼城 Fēngdū Guǐ Chéng). It is designed to resemble Youdu, the capital of Diyu, which is the version of the Underworld in Chinese Mythology, but while the name would give the impression that it’s haunted by ghosts, it’s actually more of a historical site dedicated to Confucianist, Buddhist, and Taoist teachings regarding the afterlife.

Fengdu Ghost City earned its name and reputation during the Eastern Han Dynasty, when two palace officials, Yin Changsheng (阴长生) and Wang Fangping (no Chinese characters given). traveled to Ming Mountain to practice Taoism. They managed to achieve immortality, and they became known as Yinwang (阴王), which is the combination of their names that also happens to mean “King of Hell.” This was how the city’s focus on the underworld and the afterlife began.

Fengdu Ghost City is now a tourist destination. At the entrance,  you’ll be greeted by the statues of the Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常), which are two Chinese mythological deities in charge of escorting the dead to the underworld. Inside the city, there are various statues of ghosts around the streets. One of them is the statue of the Wreath-Eating ghost (食蔓鬼), which according to legend is the ghost of a girl who had the habit of stealing flowers from the statues of Buddha. After she died,  she was cursed to only be able to eat flowers instead of the food offerings from the living. The largest statue is that of the Ghost King, which sits on top of Ming Mountain. It is 138 meters tall and about 217 meters wide, and it holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest sculpture carved on a rock. The Ghost King can be seen from all sides of Fengdu, as if it was the city’s eerie guardian. 


The Ghost King (Photo from Atlas Obscura)

Wreath Eating Ghost (Photo from Tripadvisor)

The landmarks in Fengdu are based on the Chinese belief that the dead must pass three tests before they are allowed to move on to the afterlife. The first test involves  “Nothing-To-Be-Done-Bridge,” which is a 3-arched stone bridge that was built during the Ming Dynasty. It supposedly connects the real world and the underworld, and it tests whether a soul is good or evil. There are also square-shaped pools at the bottom of the bridge. Ghosts must pass through the middle arch to be tested, and good souls will pass through easily, while evil souls will supposedly fall into the pools below. Before leaving, visitors are encouraged to pass through the other two arches, which are called Golden and Silver Bridges respectively, because it is believed to bring good luck.

Nothing-To-Be-Done-Bridge (Photo from Tripadvisor)

The next stop is the “Ghost Torturing Pass,” which is a place to punish ghosts for their sins. It is the actual entrance to the underworld, and at the end of the tunnel, the ghosts must present themselves to Yanluo Wang (閻羅王), the King of Hell, for final judgment. Fengdu’s version of the Ghost Torturing Pass is a long structure that’s lined with eighteen statues of demons perpetrating various forms of punishment for evil ghosts.

Ghost Torturing Pass (Photo from China Discovery)

The third test takes place outside the Tianzi Palace, which is the oldest and largest temple on Ming Mountain. It spans 2,908 square yards, and the front gate stands at almost 33 feet. The test takes place outside the gate, where the ghost must stand on one foot on a stone for three minutes. A good soul will be able to do this and will be permitted to enter the Tianzi Palace, while an evil soul will not and will be sent to hell.

Tianzi Palace (Photo from Travel n Architechture)

A relatively new attraction in Fengdu is the Last Glance Tower, which was built in 1985. It’s meant to represent a site where spirits who are condemned to hell can take one last look at their family members before moving on.

Fengdu Ghost City isn’t exactly a popular destination because its name carries connotations of a haunted or cursed place, but in reality, it’s more like a theme park centered around the afterlife. It actually presents an interesting take on hell. The Catholics see it as a deep and fiery pit. The Greeks see it as a cold and dark place with infernal rivers and fields of punishment. Meanwhile, for the Chinese, hell is similar to the real world, except with more deities, demons, and  bureaucracy.

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