One place in China serves as the country’s sole ghost city, not just as a place of burial but as a gateway to hell. Feng Du is located on Ming Mountain, on the northern banks of the Yangtze River between Zhongxian and Fuling. Established more than 1,700 years ago, this necropolis is steeped in Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian lore, and is now frequented by tourists who visit the 75 temples and shrines dedicated to the gods of the afterlife.
It is believed that after death, the souls register at the Hell of Feng Du, and obtain their entrance permit, reviewed by 10 Yama officials and wait for the decision of the King of Hell before entering the Gate of Hell. Sinful people are punished and reborn as animals, while virtuous people are reborn as humans after a wonderful time in paradise.
Humans may also spend time in the necropolis, among its many temples and shrines. On the way to the main temple, visitors have to undergo a series of â€œtestsâ€ to see if they are good or bad. The first of these are the three bridges, of which only the middle one lets you in the land of the dead (the other two serve are exits). Couples who wish to remain together in the afterlife must hold hands while crossing the middle bridge and take nine steps, nine being a lucky number in China. When entering each of the temples, girls must step in with their right foot first if they wish to remain female in their next life; boys must use their left. The next test is a 200-pound iron stone which men must balance on top of a round point if they wish to prove they are good husbands. Another test is climbing a set of stairs; those below 33 years of age must do so in one breath while those above it may walk. The final test, to be done in front of the temple and besides a display of small figures being tortured by supernatural beings, is balancing on a rounded point for three seconds. Women need to use their right foot for this while men need to use their left.
Feng Du is one of the 72 graveyards of Taoism, places where Taoists believe the souls will gather after death. At the center of Feng Du is a large palace that covers 3,000 square meters, and is reachable through a huge arc of stone and wood. Amidst the traditional-style buildings and the well-kept gardens are creepy structures, among which is the tower house where spirits who are condemned to hell supposedly have one last chance to look at their loved ones. Its name, appropriately enough, is Last Glance At Home Tower, after which the souls drink a memory-erasing soup before moving on. Other disturbing place-names are called â€œGhost Torturing Passâ€, â€œNothing to be Done Bridgeâ€, and so on. Many statues litter the area, each one said to hold responsibility over areas in the spirit world and many describe the horrifying punishments waiting in the after-life for people who disobey ancient Chinese morals. One statue in particular, the Ghost King, is 138 meters high and 217 meters wide, and is the biggest rock-side sculpture in the world.
Feng Du is near Chongqing, the most economically significant city in West China and the biggest inland city in the country. The city is the launching point for boat trips down the Yangtze River past the Three Gorges Dam. Chongqing itself has many attractions, from Chiang Kai-Shekâ€™s old military headquarters (the city served as the Chinaâ€™s capital during World War II) to the prosperous downtown center of Chongqing Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street.
With the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, Feng Du has turned into an island, accessible only by boat, with part of the graveyard now submerged underwater. The best time to visit Feng Du is between the 3rd and 15th of March, when fairs containing spirit shows and magic shows are held. Many local believers choose the names of their newborn babies with the help of these shows. Feng Du is usually the first shore excursion in the Yangtze River cruises and is a perfect getaway for this season of spooks and spirits.