On the 11th floor of a suburban Hong Kong tower, an 86-year-old woman lived alone in a tiny, decrepit apartment. Her family rarely visited. Her daughter had married a man in Macau and now lived there with him and their two children. Her son had passed away years earlier, and his only child now attended university in England.
One September evening, the old woman fell and broke her hip while trying to change a lightbulb. She couldn’t move, and no one heard her crying for help. Over the next two days, she slowly died from dehydration. It took an additional three days for the neighbours to call the authorities – three days for the stench to become truly unbearable. The police removed the body and notified the family. A small funeral was held.
When a university student in Hong Kong first sent me this story, which I have translated from Chinese and slightly modified, I knew it wasn’t true. Many similar fictional tales of ghosts, hauntings and unnatural deaths can be found online. Though these stories are not factual reports, I have found they reflect the experiences and anxieties of many who live in urban China: elderly parents left without family at the end of their lives; ghosts harming strangers (even leading them to take their own life); a pervasive fear of death; and a strengthening relationship between a fear of ghosts and the real-estate market.