On the north bank of the Yangzi 172 kilometers east of Chongqing, Fengdu lays claim to being China's "City of ghosts," a claim said to date back almost two millenia to the Han Dynasty. The dead were said to come here on their way to hell, but at least since 1978 when the site became heavily commercialized, they were also joined by millions of tourists.
With its strange combination of beautiful pagodas and striking landscapes above and stone cellars housing life-sized automatons re-enacting hellish tortures below, Fengdu has become a daily dose of Halloween. Inside the grounds, monks tell fortunes and sell expensive talismans to protect one during upcoming ill-fated years, whereas outside its main gate, scores of tacky tourist stalls sell T-shirts and plastic pandas (but unfortunately no kitsch directly relating to Fengdu or the hells themselves). They mainly cater to the large tourist boats making their way through the Three Gorges to and from Chongqing.
After traveling along deeply cracked and potholed roads (which, according to the driver, was because the locals hadn't paid sufficient bribes to the regional authorities), the current caretakers of these hell scrolls in the autumn of 2007 photographed the City of Ghosts as part of a developing project on the larger scroll collection. Thirty years after becoming a tourist site open to the world, hell had fallen upon hard times. Many of the automaton mechanisms no longer functioned, many of the statues' limbs and weapons were broken, and a thick layer of dust coated every surface. Headless corpses would try to rise out of coffins, but the corpses were headless only because the heads had fallen off, exposing the rusty metal gears underneath, and the broken bodies were no longer rising very far, bumping and clanking away in the dark, damp, and little visited cellars and chambers. Hell had gone to hell, but the unintended decay was an ironic message in itself.
Haughty lords are missing their fingers.
Dusty demons have lost their weapons.
A typical red-haired green-faced hell demon.