Shunning Ghosts––Don’t Look Back

Yesterday, a friend of mine – a freelance writer – asked me for some Chinese ghost stories for her new Halloween blog. I couldn’t think of anything scary at the time so I replied with a piece of Chinese advice for shunning ghosts – don’t look into a mirror for too long after midnight. Later this very advice I offered her kept coming back to me. For some ineffable reason I couldn’t shake it off, so I just delved into this eerie thought: how to steer clear of, in any, ghosts?

An old Chinese saying goes: If you believe in it, it exists; if you do not believe in it, it does not exist. That saying only applies to our mental world, for things such as, but not limited to, religion, belief, karma, luck and fate. So for the record, for those of you who do not believe in ghosts, they probably don’t exist.

I used to spend every summer with my grandparents as a kid. They lived in a different town with a less educated populace, which was a perfect demographic for superstitions to thrive in. Many elderly people in China have their own versions of explanations as to what is going on everyday, and they especially, have a plenty of ghost theories and stories. My grandparents were, and still are, among those people, and I grew up listening to their fascinating yet terrifying stories. To be honest, I didn’t have the courage to walk alone at night until the age of 14; perhaps I overdosed on theories and stories of which I shouldn’t have heard at an early age.

Many elderly people in China believe in this: if you walk alone at night and you hear someone call your name or any unusual sound from behind, do not turn around. They say humans have three sparks at night located above our heads and shoulders. Each time you turn around for a ghost, one of them goes out. If these sparks – which supposedly ward off evil spirits and illuminate the dark nights – all went out, then we would be left unguarded.

Some people also believe that kids under 3 are psychic – they have a sharper and more perceptive vision, which allows them to see things that usually can’t be seen by others. For that, some regional Chinese folklore demand that adults traveling at pitch-black nights – especially after 12 p.m., which allegedly is the most active time for ghosts – should blindfold kids under 3 to keep their journey safe.

When moving into a new place, to examine whether the house/apartment is haunted, bring a dog with you. If the dog roams the new place normally, then it is safe. But, if the dog shows timidity or anxiety, then perhaps you should keep looking for another place. There are many other rules and theories as per Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese thought concerning spatial arrangements and choosing locations; I am no expert in it and I choose not to embarrass myself in attempting to explain it. I just wanted to show how seriously Chinese people are about metaphysics.

Now let’s return to the advice I had given to my friend – the mirror theory. According to yin-yang, a major chapter in Chinese philosophy that reconciles two opposing forces (yin being negative and yang being positive), a mirror is, by its reflective nature, yin; it replicates everything and creates a pseudo world. Thus Feng Shui considers mirrors to be the portals to the world of yin, where ghosts reside, which makes looking into mirrors after 12 p.m. a very risky thing to do.

Again, those are just theories presented by people who chose to believe in ghosts; there is absolutely no need to take them seriously, or is there?

The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “One cannot know anything about afterlife since one doesn’t even have a grasp of this life.” Scientifically speaking, ghosts are just imagination in our heads – people even get psychosis from imagining too much, yet we keep dwelling on things that we can’t explain; so much so that once in awhile an unfortunate person would foster the belief of ghosts – like me. But there is one thing I know for sure: keeping your mind off ghosts is the best way to distance yourself from them.


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