Ghost marriages,spooky superstitions and the dead roaming the streets:Beneath this city’s modern surface, it’s Hong Kong Halloween all year long.

chinese style sailboat in Hong Kong
Beneath the modern facade hides an array of superstitions and supernatural beliefs.

The Hong Kong Halloween may have evolved to an important annual carnival event in Hong Kong, infusing the city with spooky atmosphere of spider webs, pumpkin decorations and Zombie-themed parties but not too long ago it was practically non-existent. The reason for that is simple: There is an abundance of local Chinese traditions and practices related to the spirit world, that thrive until today and which satisfy the human fascination with the dead. Under Hong Kong’s Asia World City modern and cosmopolitan surface, lurk eerie beliefs and extraordinary superstitions that influence and shape peoples’ everyday lives.

Honouring the Dead, appeasing the Hungry Ghosts: The relationship of the living with the dead in China never ends, with spirits annually entering en masse the physical realm. During the Hungry Ghost Festival- the gates of hell burst open and restless spirits barge into our world. According to ancient Buddhist beliefs, Hungry Ghosts are people who were never content or grateful for what they were given in life, and thus remained unfulfilled and “hungry” in the afterlife. They come back from the lower spiritual realm of Hungry Ghosts during the festival days (on the first day of the seventh lunar month of the year) and restlessly wander the streets. Desperate to be fed, they may even appear as real people and ask you for food. If you refuse to give it to them, they curse you and your loved ones and bring disaster to your house. To appease those spirits, people offer food and burn incense and Hell Money (a form of Joss Paper) in the streets and corners of the city.

Warning: Do not step or meddle with any of the street offerings. If you do so you are looking for serious ghost trouble.

Chinese god
Chinese God

Helping ghosts have a fulfilled afterlife does not end here. Ghost Marriages are a traditional practice that aims to bring together the lonely relatives who died unmarried and pacify their spirits.  The “weddings” are arranged by the families of the departed with the help of a spirit medium that acts as a “matchmaker” between two spirits. The practice stems from the ancient Chinese belief that it is bad luck to enter the afterlife unmarried, as well as the Chinese parents’ sense of obligation to marry off their children. Originally ghost marriages were restricted between two deceased people only but, in time, there have been cases of the living getting married to ghosts.

Doomed Apartments and Haunted Houses: Real Estate superstitions have never been a secret in China and Hong Kong. If you wonder why the apartment on the fourth floor is such a bargain in a highly sought-after neighbourhood, don’t get too excited: Number four in Cantonese and Mandarin sounds like the word Death (死=) and it is considered to be very unlucky. Reversely, an apartment on the 8th floor- with eight sounding like the Chinese word for “Wealth”-(八=Ba) is lucky and will be high in demand.

Old apartments in Hong Kong
Haunted? Old apartments in Hong Kong.

But the property superstitions do not end here. Lately a Real Estate website in Hong Kong introduced an eerie Haunted Property interactive map service, where expats and non-believers can look for cheaper “haunted” properties in the city. The service is far from just a marketing trick: prices for these apartments can go for up to 50 per cent less than normal prices, and they are a real bargain if you do not mind the occasional light flickering, strange smells, and feeling of being constantly watched. The site presents the reasons why the property is considered haunted, including the money or relationship problems that ended in murder, suicide or unexplained death. In a city so densely populated as Hong Kong is, it is truly remarkable the number of “haunted” apartments you get in close proximity to each other, creating a truly spooky feel of spirits being present in all places and all the time, especially during the night time.

Hong Kong © Jo/Flickr
Hong Kong © Jo/Flickr

 The Most Haunted Places: There are some places in Hong Kong where people have consistently reported “supernatural phenomena” and the Sai Ying Pun Community Complex is among the most sinister examples. Once Hong Kong’s Old Mental Hospital, it was allegedly used during the Japanese Occupation as an execution hall, and it later remained unoccupied for 20 years after the war. The ghost incidents reported in its premises have been so many that it has been nicknamed “High Street Ghost House”.

In Wan Chai, Hong Kong’s most infamously haunted area, the dark Nam Koo Terrace house is another of the city’s notorious ghost houses. During WWII, Nam Koo Terrace was used by the Japanese as a brothel filled with desperate comfort women who were tortured in its premises. Today it is one of Hong Kong’s spookiest places with people reporting mysterious screams and unearthly voices coming from its secluded walls at night. In 2003 it was reported in the news that a group of middle school students that broke into the deserted house to catch a glimpse of the ghosts were found so panic-stricken from what they described as a malicious ghost attack, that three of them next day were in need of psychiatric help.

Who doesn’t remember the vicious 1999 Hello Kitty murder, when the head of an unfortunate bar hostess was found in a Hello Kitty mermaid doll. The incident became known to the police when a fourteen year old girl one day walked in the police station in Tsim Sha Tsui and claimed that she was being haunted by a young woman’s ghost, the same woman the girl had helped torture and kill.  For several years after the brutal murder paranormal investigators visited the building on Granville Road 31 where the woman was killed, and tried to communicate with her until the building was demolished in 2012.

Burning "Ghost money" paper on Chinese New Year February 7, 2016
Burning “Ghost money” paper on Chinese New Year February 7, 2016






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About the Author

Chrisa is a freelance journalist and blogger that is passionate about China . After studying Mandarin for a year in Beijing and Shanghai, she fell in love with Hong Kong's unique vibe and rich culture,and later completed a masters degree in International Studies at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on Hong Kong as an Asia World City. She has also studied Culture and Film, and loves all forms of Art.