We hollered at British tour guide Daniel Newman, who runs Shanghai Ghost Tours for his company Newman Tours, and asked him to recommend some unholy places around town. Bust out the Ouija Board and the incense -- here's his list of haunts.
1. Jing'an Cemetery
Jing'an is full of white folks -- living and dead. Jing'an Park was once the Bubbling Well Road Cemetery, which opened in the 1890s. They were keen to make as much money as possible and therefore catered their services to foreign customers, who were fond of sending their cremated loved ones home in an urn to save money (a dead body is a lot heavier than ashes). But they also buried a lot more people than they burned. In 1955, the bodies were exhumed and sent to the suburbs, but lots of the gravestones had been stolen by then, so who's to say they found all the bodies…
2. The Paramount
Back in the '30s, The Paramount was the coolest place to be seen in Shanghai. Charlie Chaplin danced there with Paulette Goddard on his one and only night in Shanghai. That's not to say, however, that it was necessarily a safe place, as one young girl named Chen Manli learned the hard way in 1941. She worked in the club as a taxi dancer (a dancer you can rent to dance with you, like a taxi...), and according to legend, she refused to dance with a Japanese officer one night. In retaliation for this affront, a man clad in black walked into The Paramount and shot her on the dancefloor, and she died instantly. Just a few years ago you could still pay for a dance on the unlucky fourth floor where this incident took place, and several of those that worked there claimed to have seen the ghost of that young taxi dancer dancing slowly and silently by herself.
3. The Qiu Mansion
This ghost story was first reported by the world's leading news authority, CNN, so it must be true, right? In 2010, a team of workers was sent in to knock down this old colonial building, but they soon left the site covered in what looked like animal bites. The following day, one of the workers tried to assail his boss with a hammer, and when they managed to stop him, he told them "the lizards made me do it".
CNN explained that the building had once been the home of two nouveau riche paint merchants from Shandong who kept a wide range of exotic animals in their garden. Their pets included pheasants, peacocks, a bengali tiger, and of course some lizards. Allegedly, the brothers just disappeared one day, and their animals were later eaten by starving locals. So perhaps the wounds sustained by thoses workers were the phantom bites of the animal's ghosts... Pet Cemetery vibes.
4. Taiping Shopping Mall
When most shopping malls want customers to leave so they can close for the night, they play a wonderfully corny saxophone solo by Kenny G called "Going Home", but the Taiping Shopping Mall in Xujiahui used to be an exception to this rule. Until a few years ago, they played unsettling children's songs over the speakers when it was time to xia ban. That's because the spot where the mall now stands used to be an orphanage, and perhaps some of the children that stayed there died while in care. So the reason the guards used to play children's music is because they didn't want to listen to the ghosts of those baby orphans crying, which some Ayis there claimed they heard throughout the night…
5. Plaza 66
Several serious accidents are rumored to have occurred when this beacon of consumerism was being erected. This, the project's feng shui consultant said, was because a goddess dwelt in the foundations of the building, and not surprisingly she wasn't keen on being buried beneath a skyscraper full of gaudy designer goods. The solution he came up with for the developer was to alter the design of the building so it ended up looking like a giant stick of incense burning in eternal honour of the goddess. The design was altered accordingly, and from that point forth there were no further problems. Now feeling she has been given the respect she deserves, the goddess has apparently grown to love designer fashion, and is now actually quite "bling-bling". She does, however, still enjoy messing with the minds of any visitors that choose to use the stairs in Plaza 66, so be careful not to get lost in there.
6. The Dragon Pillar
When constructing the Yan'an Elevated Highway, Shanghai's engineering experts encountered a problem that had them all stumped. They couldn't drill through the ground despite the fact that Shanghai has a soft and muddy terrain. Nobody could figure out a solution until eventually a Buddhist monk from one of the local temples came forward and explained that they were "trying to drill through a dragon's tail". Promising to act as an intermediary, the monk isolated himself, read ancient scriptures and negotiated with the dragon.
When he returned to the construction site, he explained that they needed to decorate the pillar that they wished to insert with nine golden dragons and wait for an auspicious date. Sure enough his suggestion worked, so the only logical conclusion we can draw is that the dragon must have moved its tail right? But the catch to the story is that the day after the problem had been solved, the monk dropped dead! This, the locals claim, is because the dragon doesn't like people talking about him, so whatever you do, don't tell anybody about the beast that lives beneath.
7. The Normandie
During the Cultural Revolution, several people threw themselves off the roof of this iconic building. Indeed, suicide and this building became so closely associated in the minds of the locals that they started to refer to the building as "The Diving Board". The most famous of The Normandie's suicidal sirens was Shangguan Yunzhu, whose films from the 1940s were later denounced as "poisonous weeds". Some claim that they can still smell the actress's perfume under the door of her long since abandoned room, and others claim they've heard a thumping sound on the ground below after seeing her bedroom window slide itself open.
8. Longhua Temple & Martyrs Cemetery
With a temple named after a mythological dragon that once supposedly occupied its grounds, and a graveyard dedicated to victims of a devastating massacre, this area has more than its fair share of ghost stories. In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek worked with local gangsters like Du Yuesheng to try and ensure that his rival political faction would be wiped out forever. More than 5,000 people are believed to have been executed, but some -- including Zhou Enlai -- escaped and continued the Communist cause.
9. Shanghai University Library
In 1644, the Manchurians swept down into China and established the country's last imperial dynasty -- The Qing Dynasty. The people of Jiading tried to resist Manchurian occupation, and China's new rulers decided to make an example of them. Thousands of Jiading locals were executed in order to scare the neighboring cities into fearful obedience. Where this massacre took place is rumored to be the site of the Shanghai University Library, and the flowerbed in front of it is said to feel notably colder than the surrounding area.
10. The Ghost Market [Bonus]
Ok this one is not "haunted" per se, but this market opens so early that locals say the only souls awake at that time (~4am) are the ghosts. Situated in the Confucian Temple near the Wenmiao Lu Anime Ghetto, this market sells old books that are no longer in print, many of which have mysterious origins. And although everybody here is alive and well for the moment, the dim morning light reflected on the surface of the books being poured over by local enthusiasts makes them look like the living dead. Might be a good final destination after a night of partying on Halloween, as the dawn rises...
All photos by SmartShanghai. Also, we are not saying that these places are definitely, beyond a doubt haunted. That's just the word on the streets.