It is always interesting to learn about historical events in China, as the country has an incredibly long history. Apart from officially recorded history like documentaries or books, it is insightful to learn oral history too. Oral history often takes the form of urban legends. People talked about it, and their conversation passed down generations. It then became important knowledge that helps us understand how individuals and communities experienced the forces of history.
Oral history in China takes the form of urban legends too. Most Chinese urban legends are very implausible. They are heavier on the myth side rather than the factual basis. However, they are still very helpful for people to learn Chinese history and traditions. These old stories deliver old-time values too. Also, urban legends in China are very regional – the fact that China is a huge country has endowed Northerners and Southerners with different customs.
This blog will present you with the top 6 urban legends in China. It categorizes these stories based on the city of origin, and if applicable, related facts and history behind the story will be added to help you better understand the background. You might find some of the stories scary, though the best attempt to make them the least scary has been used. Let’s get started!
Urban Legends in Beijing
As the capital city of China, Beijing has a history of more than 3000 years. It has been the capital of five dynasties: Liao (916-1125), Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and the most recent one, Qing (1644-1912). After the foundation of the PRC, modern society has encountered many old-time mysteries left here by the Ancient Chinese. Too many urban legends in China happen here; I can only pick some interesting ones for you.
#1: Rabbit doodles
According to locals living in Beijing, this rabbit-shaped doodle is everywhere in the streets. One day, people spotted them without noticing when or who created these drawings. After noticing this rabbit, some curious people made a field trip to see any patterns or rules of the rabbit’s locations. However, with no luck, they found it on everything: toilet doors, traffic signs, random walls, electric meter boxes, police announcement boards, local household doors and fences, restaurant columns…There are no certain rules or geographic patterns. Also, just like every other doodle, someone created these rabbits overnight. There were no witnesses, either.
People started to guess the meaning behind it. But they cannot dig any further with such a simple rabbit with a smile. When there’s no truth, the rumor spreads fast. Some people think the rabbit is a religious symbol, like the Church of the flying spaghetti monster. Some people think only rebellious Westerners would do this; they believe a British man had created the rabbit. They claim an Instagram account (I will not expose that account for privacy concerns) to be his, but that account’s art style and nationality are far away from what they assumed. Also, there’s a saying that the rabbit belongs to ZATOI, a doodle organization. But there is no evidence to support that.
Nowadays, just like most urban legends, this case remains unsolved. Many local young people imitate the art style of this rabbit and draw it across the city. No one knows who exactly holds account of this rabbit, but the doodle brings a modern concept into a 3000-year-old city.
#2: Bus Route 375
This urban legend is a scary one. It was once trendy on social media in China during 2008-2010. The story goes like this:
A young man and an elderly lady were waiting for bus 375 at the Xizhimen stop. It was a cold winter’s night, about 10-11 pm. Not many people were still wandering around that area as it got freezing at night in North China. Soon, the bus came. There were only two people on the bus: the driver and the bus ticket salesperson. The young man and the old lady got on the bus.
Shortly after a while, the bus arrived at the next stop. Three people wearing long robes got on the bus too. Suddenly, the old lady lost her temper with the young man, accusing him of stealing her wallet. The salesperson tried to stop the fight, but the old lady demanded to get off the bus with the young man to go to the police station as soon as possible. The young man was confused and upset, but he followed the old lady to get off the bus. The bus went away. He asked the old lady why she would do so. The old lady said: “Those three people are not human! They wear long robes to cover their feet – because they cannot walk as living people do. I saw them floating in the air!”
The next day, the bus terminal at the Old Summer Palace reported the driver and salesperson had gone missing to the police. The police then found the bus was going on a detour to a rural area nearby Fragrant Hills. The bus was upside down in a gutter. The driver and salesperson were all dead, with their necks snapped. But the three people with long robes were nowhere to be found. No one had ever seen them again.
The truth behind Bus Route 375
It turns out the bus route 375 was a rumor, though there were lots of details in this case. First of all, under curious people’s investigations, the current bus route 375 doesn’t go to the bus terminal at the Old Summer Palace. Nor does it go in the direction of Fragrant Hills. Secondly, the last two bus services for route 375 at night are 9 pm and 10 pm. It is unlikely that the bus will be late, given that the stop is far from the city center. There won’t be traffic.
Some versions of this urban legend also say that the case happened on 14 November 1995 or 16 November 1995. However, the newspapers or news reports from 14 Nov to 17 Nov 1995 in Beijing didn’t mention a single word about this car accident. The only bus-related news around this time frame was in Hong Kong.
#3: The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City sits at the center of Beijing city. It consists of a group of palaces where emperors used to live. These palaces have a fairly long history as well. The Forbidden City started its service from 1406 until 1924 and experienced two dynasties and 24 emperors. In 1925, the government of the Republic of China renovated it and turned it into the nowadays Palace Museum. Lots of tourists have come to visit, and some urban legends are growing under the wall.
There have always been rumors around the Forbidden City, as it was very mysterious to ordinary people back then and now. Because when the emperor and the royal family still lived inside the palaces, the security kept random people out. After it became a museum, the security again keeps visitors out to protect the buildings and collections. No one knows what’s happening inside the walls. Therefore, lots of urban legends start in the palaces.
The Guardian Spirits of the Palace
In ancient times, the Chinese people thought certain legendary creatures were protective and blessed, such as Chinese dragons and lions. They carved those animals into the buildings, wishing these legendary spirits could protect the building as well as the people living inside. Lions are the most common guardian animals in traditional Chinese culture. There are a lot of stone lions sitting in front of the entrance of each palace.
It is said that, after the government built the museum, a group of security guards were patrolling around the palaces at night. One team member saw a shadow quickly moving between the corridors. The shadow was large, but it didn’t make a sound. He reported back to their leader. The whole team freaked out and ran away, as ghost haunting was not unusual in the Forbidden City.
The next day, the security team went back to the scene. They found the stone lions in front of a palace had swapped their positions. Also, they found the stone ball under its paw on the ground.
It’s, of course, a rumor. The story is made to scare away people with bad intentions. Although under the communist ideology, Chinese people are all atheists, they are still heavily influenced by ancient mythical values.
Urban Legends in Harbin
Harbin is the second-largest city in Northeast China. It is famous for its wonderful winter scenarios and historical Russian legacy. People living in Northeast China strongly believe in animal spirits, as their ancestors used to hunt to make a living. Not many urban legends in China happen here, but those existing ones are juicy enough.
#4: Cat-faced old lady
This is a scary one too. According to the internet, in 1995, an old lady had a sudden death while shopping for food. There’s always a saying in Northeast China that when animals walk by freshly dead bodies, they can revive the dead. People said a cat was passing by when the lady died. So the lady’s face turned into half human and half cat. “She” soon recovered and ran away in front of many people, leaving them in shock and fear.
The rumor spread fast among towns. Meanwhile, the police received several cases of missing children. People said these cases were all because of the cat-faced lady. “She” liked hunting children at nighttime. The technology back then was still inadequate in solving missing children’s cases. People started to panic about these unsolved cases. The local government had to announce a soft dusk-to-dawn curfew for security concerns.
The truth behind the Cat-faced Old Lady
It is a rumor. Everything related to the cat-faced lady is artificial. First of all, dead people would never come back to life, even with technology. But the rumor did cause panic among the citizens, and the local government noticed it. It was on TV back then, but the show was for entertainment purposes.
The missing child cases were real, but none of them were related to the cat-faced lady. These cases were related to trafficking crimes – trafficking once was outrageous in China, especially in cities like Harbin acting as a border control center.
Urban Legends in Xinjiang
Xinjiang is a huge province in Northwest China. It has diverse ethnicities and cultures because of the ancient Silk Road, which links China and the Middle East. The legacy still sits in oasis cities in Hotan and Kashgar. Xinjiang has stunning sceneries of deserts and mountains; oasis cities are beautiful too. Around the 2nd century BC, there was once a kingdom called Loulan. Loulan dominated the Lop Nur Desert for a while, then disappeared during the war. There are lots of mysteries lying in the Loulan legacy. Xinjiang contributes a lot to urban legends in China.
#5: “Zombies” in the Lop Nur Desert
Before the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Loulan legacy had been founded. Lots of adventurers went there for a treasure hunt. Unfortunately, none of them came back. The urban legend starts here. Local people found all of them wandering around in the Lop Nur Desert purposelessly like zombies until they couldn’t move anymore. Their autopsy reports showed that they all had an unknown plant in their stomach. But the government was focusing on the Cultural Revolution; they didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the Lop Nur Desert.
Not until the 1970s, after the revolution, people found the number of wandering “zombies” increasing shockingly. No one knew where these “zombies” came from, as transportation was limited during the revolution. Also, no human can even survive near the desert. Autopsy reports again showed that they all ate an unknown plant and died from some unknown neurotoxin.
The government didn’t want another riot in Northwest China after they ended the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, they secretly fired a nuclear bomb into the Lop Nur Desert, pretending to be testing the bomb but killing all those “zombies” in the desert.
The truth behind “Zombies” in the Lop Nur Desert
Rumour. The Chinese government did conduct several weapon tests during the 1970s in the Lop Nur Desert. However, no plants can survive in the desert. There is no actual proof of “zombies” either. One plausible explanation is that local people suffered from radioactive waste because of the nuclear weapon test in that area. Victims of nuclear weapons all look like zombies because their skin will fall off. But, if people die from radioactive waste, they can barely move.
#6: Pisces Jade Pendant
Every urban legend related to the Lop Nur Desert and the Loulan Kingdom has something to do with this Pisces jade pendant. It is said that the jade was found inside the Loulan legacy. However, there is no official record of excavation of this jade pendant. The picture here is just for decoration and insight purposes. All we have online is the rumor.
In 2009, a rumor about the Pisces jade pendant spread out online. It is said that the jade pendant was closely linked with those “zombies” in the desert. In the 1980s, a group of archaeologists went into the desert. They wanted to find out the truth about those plants and the mysterious neurotoxin. They found the Pisces jade pendant and brought it back. However, months later, after they came back, the leader sensed something was wrong. His teammates seemed to act differently, but they looked the same as usual. Finally, the leader found out those “teammates” were copies of his real teammates. And his real teammates…were still in the desert, probably dead already.
The story says the pendant functioned like a mirror and a printer. It can copy anything and produce a mirrored copy of that thing. It explained how the leader didn’t notice his teammates were not the same people in the first place. Also, it explained that those “zombies” were all copied on the pendant.
The truth behind the Picese Jade Pendant
It’s a rumor. No one finds this pendant anywhere. Again, the plausible explanation is about the nuclear weapon test. As we all know, radioactive containment can cause deformity in newborn babies. It was likely there had been lots of deformed newborns, probably conjoined twins. People back then didn’t have enough knowledge to explain conjoined twins. So they called these babies “mirrored” or “copy”.
Although most of the urban legends in China are creepy and scary, they are mostly artificial. However, there are some real historical reasons behind each rumor. Now we can see how history is linked with oral history urban legends. It is valuable to understand the community and how people think in a certain country.
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