Film Has Crowds Swarming to Beijing House, Haunted or Not
Chaonei No. 81, arguably Beijing’s most celebrated “haunted house,” has seen a steady stream of visitors over the years. Until recently, they were a niche assortment — mostly thrill-seekers, urban explorers and history buffs — looking to experience firsthand the lurid tales of the once-grand French Baroque-style mansion, which has long sat dilapidated and abandoned. Foremost among the many legends associated with Chaonei No. 81 is that the mansion is haunted by the ghost of the mistress of a Kuomintang official who hanged herself there after her lover abandoned her following the Communist victory in 1949.
But the release in Chinese film theaters last week of a big-budget 3-D thriller inspired by Chaonei No. 81 has prompted an unprecedented deluge of visitors. Since its premiere on Thursday, the film, called “Jingcheng No. 81” or, in English, “The House That Never Dies,” has already earned about 160 million renminbi, or around $25.7 million, putting it third on the domestic box-office charts, behind “Tiny Times 3” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” according to the Chinese movie website Mtime.com.
上个星期，根据它的故事拍成的一部大制作3D恐怖片在中国院线上映了，这为朝内81号带来了数量空前的游客。这部影片名叫《京城81号》，英文名字翻译过来是《永远不死的房子》(The House That Never Dies)。根据中国电影网站Mtime.com统计，该片自上周四首映以来，已经获得了大约1.6亿人民币的票房收入，约合2570万美元，在国内票房排行榜上排名第三，仅次于《小时代3》和《变形金刚：绝迹重生》(Transformers: Age of Extinction)。
“I never thought my job would be like this,” said Xu Wen, the groundskeeper of Chaonei No. 81. Mr. Xu, who has worked at the property since 2011, estimated that the number of visitors since last week had been upward of 500 per day, far more than in the past.
The gate to the compound where the mansion and an outbuilding, also said to be haunted, are situated had previously been left open for much of the day. But to deal with the sudden surge in interest following the film’s premiere, the owners, the Beijing Catholic Diocese, have decided to keep it closed to help control the flow of visitors.
“The buildings are too old,” Mr. Xu said. “If there are too many people inside at once, it’s more likely that someone will get hurt.”
On Tuesday morning, about 50 people, mostly young, wandered around the property, exploring and taking photos. Among them was Gong Xiangyu, a 20-year-old student who, after seeing the film that morning, decided to walk the 20 minutes or so from the theater to see the real Chaonei No. 81, which is located on a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Beijing.
“I think what’s cool about this film is that the house is actually in Beijing, unlike the haunted houses we see in American movies,” said Mr. Gong, currently on summer vacation from Beijing People’s Police College. “The house itself isn’t really scary like the one in the movie — there are too many people here — but I guess I am scared of falling through the floorboards.”
Some historians and officials from the Beijing diocese disagree about the history of the mansion. Church officials have said that the house was built in 1910 as a Chinese-language school for foreign missionaries and later also took in diplomats, businessmen and scholars. Historians, however, say that the buildings at Chaonei No. 81 were constructed as a private residence for the French manager of a railroad company. After 1949, it is generally agreed that the buildings swung between various states of use and disuse.
“This history is very difficult to get straight,” said Mr. Xu, who has taken an active interest in unearthing the mansion’s history.
Part of the allure to visitors no doubt also stems from the house itself, which in its decaying state is seemingly an ideal setting for paranormal activity (or, at the very least, rumors about it).
Inside the barren house, piles of brushwood, litter and building materials lie strewn about. Graffiti, much of it apparently recent, is scrawled across the walls. In the dark basement of the gray-brick outbuilding in back, a tunnel where several construction workers are said to have vanished has been blocked off.
Plans to renovate the buildings, which are on a historic preservation list, are awaiting approval, church officials said last month.
Hua Shanghuang, 15, said the buildings made an “ideal backdrop” for a haunted-themed cosplay, or costume play, a performance activity that originated in Japan. On Tuesday morning, Ms. Hua, who wore a long black wig, black dress, black tights and black heels, and a friend — “the ghost” — who was clad in a red tartan skirt and a white blouse speckled with fake blood, roamed the property, striking menacing poses for a photographer.
However, Ms. Hua seemed somewhat skeptical about the presence of actual ghosts at Chaonei No. 81.
“How could there be ghosts here?” she exclaimed. “It’s so bright!”