Thu, Mar 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

How a fear of ghosts leads to callous acts

Homeowners are committing all manner of heartless acts to avoid their homes becoming haunted, and this is bearing a direct impact on the housing and insurance market

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

SUICIDE WATCH

Perhaps the biggest reason behind the growing number of xiongzhai is the nation’s high rate of suicide, which, according to Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics, had steadily increased since the 1990s until it reached a peak of 19.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2006 — two years before the MOI amended housing contracts, and much higher than the global average that year of 16.8 per 100,000. The statistics also showed that there were 16 deaths per 100,000 last year, again beating out the global average of 12.3 per 100,000.

A closer look at the demographics paints an even grimmer picture. Within Lo’s age bracket — 25 to 44 years old — there were 22 deaths per 100,000 last year, up from previous years, but still less than the 35.3 per 100,000 in 2006. For males 65 and older, the number of deaths jumps to 46.2 per 100,000 last year, though down from 51.1 per 100,000 in 2006.

In addition to the high suicide rate is how the media sensationalizes them, publishing photos of the deceased and including graphics that depict the manner in which the person took their life and the location where the death took place — all under the idea that a family’s privacy takes a back seat to the public’s right to know where xiongzhai are located.

Many of the posts on Web sites devoted to xiongzhai offer links to articles published by Apple Daily’s xiongzhaidaka (凶宅打卡, “Xiongzhai Check-in”), a column that offers in-depth profiles of famous and infamous xiongzhai cases dating back decades.

In its 2014 inaugural column, it wrote about the 2006 murder of five children in Hualien, when Liu Chih-chun (劉志勤) and his wife Lin Chen-mi (林真米) allegedly bound with wire the hands and feet of their five children, aged eight to 18, and strangled them to death. The bodies were found stacked in the second floor bathroom of their townhouse. The remains of the couple were found years later by an Amis hunter on Tzuyun Mountain (慈雲山).

The townhouse was immediately labeled a xiongzhai and the community where the murders occurred was so concerned about the malevolence of the ghosts, the police officer in charge of the case, Keng Chi-wen (耿繼文), slept in the house for a week as a means to show that there was nothing to fear.

It didn’t work.

Unluckyhouse.com, the oldest and most comprehensive Web site that tracks the nation’s xiongzhai, enables members to post where they are located and the news items on which the address is based.

There is also a xiongzhai map (凶宅地圖) on Google showing many of them in Taipei that resulted from suicide.

Shih’s suicide was covered extensively by the Chinese-language media, so it isn’t too much of a stretch for Lin to fear that Lo’s fall wasn’t accidental.

The incessant reporting of suicide and murder has another consequence: discriminatory rental practices.

Ads for rental properties generally target female office workers due to the accurate belief that men are more inclined to commit suicide than women (double according to MOHW statistics), and the suicide rate for those over 65 is consistently over 30 per 100,000 (the global average is 10).

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