Thursday, April 2, 2009

San-Zhr: Ghost Town


The difference between Mythology and Religion: What we believe is Religion and what someone else believes is Mythology

Much of what we do and refrain from doing in life is based upon our conception of what happens to us when we die.  The rationale behind where we live, how we life, how we form our families and maintain our familiar relationships,  why we go to war, or resist war, where and how we deal with our dead, and where we lay them to rest, are based, in large part, upon our beliefs about the afterlife.  

In nearly every culture, and since the beginning of recorded history, we have had special places to lay our dead to rest.  These are special places that are not usually shared by the living.  Until the Middle ages, in Europe the dead were always buried outside the city walls.  Later as proximity to the relics of saints was seen as instrumental to salvation, the dead came to be buried within the church, and in the church yard.  The advent of cemeteries, much later, continued the separation of the dead from the living.   Although this age old taboo is now unravelling, with people keeping the cremated remains of loved ones with them in their homes, and scattering them in every kind of place, for many in the world, keeping the dead away from the living is a basic and important rule.    

Photo by Cypherone

In large part, the historical separation of the dead from the living had to do, in many traditions, with the idea that the spirits of the dead could be malicious, or at least bothersome.  The dead should therefore, be placed away from the living, and in some cases, steps were taken to trick them into going away, or staying away from the rest of us.

I present this idea to provide perspective on the following story.  In Taiwan, there is an abandoned housing project where no one ever came to live, because it was feared that the spirits of dead construction workers were there.  On it's face, this may sound to us to be a silly superstition.  However, if we think back to how many things we do because of OUR ideas about the afterlife, the rationale behind this ghost town in San-Zhr might make as much sense as the tenets requiring baptism or forbidding murder. 

Photo by Cypherone

Here is the story of San-Zhr village, related by photographer Craig Ferguson (many of the photos in this piece were taken by Mr. Ferguson as well).

Just before arriving in Sanzhi, there’s an interesting site hugging the shoreline - an abandoned hotel/apartment complex that looks like somewhere ET might call home. I first heard about this a couple of years ago, but it was only recently that I was able to get out there...

San-Zhr Pod Village by Craig Ferguson

Accounts vary on the origins of this complex, and indeed, as to whether it was meant to be a hotel development or a housing development. Apparently, it was constructed in the 1960s and included/was to include a dam to protect it against sea surges, floors and stairs made of marble and a small amusement park. The site was commissioned by the government and local firms and there is no named architect.

San-Zhr Pod Village by Craig Ferguson

 Local papers at the time reported that there were numerous accidents during construction which caused the death of some workers. As news of these accidents spread, no one wanted to go there, even to visit, and the project was subsequently abandoned. The ghosts of those who died in vain are said to still linger there, unremembered and unable to pass on. The complex was left in its unfinished state because no amount of redevelopment will bring people to the area due to superstitions about ghosts, and it can’t be demolished because destroying the homes of spirits and lost souls is taboo in Asian culture.  When I was there, I met four young university students who were passing by and stopped for a look. They didn’t want to get too close to the buildings for fear that the ghosts would take them. They told me there was “heavy evil” in the buildings.
San-Zhr Pod Village, by photographer Craig Ferguson,

San-Zhr Pod Village by Craig Ferguson


Charles Cowling said...

Spellbindingly fascinating, intelligently and sympathetically analysed -- it could only happen on this blog. Thank you again, Patrick, for delighting the mind and the eye.

Nettybug said...

Scratch that first comment, after looking at the portfolio, it was Craig Ferguson's photography that I had saved....and lost. Thanks again for resurrecting it.

Craig Ferguson said...

Thanks for featuring my work. I've got another post from this location coming up on my site next Monday, April 13, 2009.

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