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Wayne P. Anderson

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Chinese Ghosts
By Wayne P. Anderson
Last edited: Monday, November 07, 2011
Posted: Monday, November 07, 2011

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On two visits to China I learned about their belief in ghosts and how to keep them under control.



The ceramic figure of the Chinese man with a wicked, satisfied smile on his face captivated me. He had his arm in a large jar and his head was turned toward me as if to say, "See, I knew I could do it." I was in a Friendship Shop in southern China, and although I don’t usually buy much in the way of souvenirs on my trips, this 7-inch tall figure attracted me; it was if he was expressing a side of my personality.

The clerk informed me the ceramic was a ghost or evil spirit catcher. His story indicated that Chinese homes are always in danger of becoming infested with spirits who do mischief and cause unpleasant things to happen. Fortunately, talented people exist who can capture them, place them in a jar and remove them to a place where they will do no more damage.

That sounds a lot like our movies about Ghostbusters, but evil-spirit-catching was a going business in China a long time before Bill Murray was apprehending apparitions on the big screen.

After a bit of required dickering about the price, the ghost catcher was added to my collection of ceramic figures on a shelf at home that represent aspects of myself.  He represents the therapist in me who helped clients deal with the psychological ghosts or evil spirits of their pasts.

Some years later, in 1993, my wife Carla and I were in a Beijing shop where a young man was carving fright masks in wood. The artist said these distorted faces were intended to be put on the outside door of a house to prevent evil spirits from entering. One mask now hangs on the wall of my office.


As we toured places such as the Summer Palace, we were asked to watch our step to avoid stumbling on the threshold of the door. Evil spirits had a policy of only going in straight lines and would not be able to get over a raised threshold. It became clear to me that these were pretty limited evil spirits. They could be caught, were frightened by masks and couldn’t get over a hump a 3-year-old could master.

The theory, as close as I could understand, was that when people die, the good part of their spirit goes to nirvana and what was evil in them gets left behind. Although this evil aspect of self has limitations, I kept hearing that care must be taken in dealing with these invisible but dangerous pests.

There are other methods the Chinese use to keep safe from harm, including the following:

● Wear new clothes on New Year’s Day so the evil spirits won’t recognize you.

● Have a huge dragon parading in the streets to scare away the ghosts.

● At weddings, use lots of firecrackers because evil spirits don’t like loud noises.

So if you happen to have Chinese evil spirits acting up, you have a multitude of techniques to limit their powers to harm you.


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