Fri, May 10, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: A ghost story in the heart of Chiayi County

There are many stories that explain why the Old Liu Family Mansion is haunted, and a visit there provides an excellent opportunity for thrills and chills

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Looking upward from inside Minsyong Ghost House.

Photo: Steven Crook

Minsyong Ghost House (民雄鬼屋) is a twofold rarity in Taiwan. Firstly, it’s a place that’s celebrated, rather than shunned, because it’s believed to be haunted. Secondly, it’s an architectural gem that’s long been on the tourist map, but which hasn’t yet been converted into a coffee/souvenir shop. Even without its tantalizing backstory, this intensely atmospheric ruin would surely attract a stream of photographers and cyclists.

The Old Liu Family Mansion (劉家古厝), as it’s called by those who don’t feel comfortable uttering the word “ghost,” was completed in 1929 for local merchant Liu Jung-yu (劉溶裕). I’ve not been able to discover when Liu was born or died, but according to some sources he lived to the age of 71. He had four sons and three daughters.

If Liu intended that this spacious edifice would serve as a home for his extended family, he must have felt terribly disappointed. In the Taiwan that existed before 1945, the rural location — some kilometers from the center of Minsyong Township (民雄) and even further from Chiayi City — was especially inconvenient. The older sons worked in Chiayi City or Beigang (北港). So the younger children could attend school, Liu’s wife moved with them to Chiayi City. After the house was finished, Liu lived there with a few servants for around three years, then also left for the city.

Liu’s employees came back from time to time to maintain the property, but it seems the house was never again lived in. Members of the Imperial Japanese Army may have been billeted in the mansion, however, as an often-repeated story tells how a squad of Japanese soldiers came to a gruesome end while staying here.

One of the soldiers awoke during the night, it’s said, and he saw someone or something approaching. He opened fire, the noise rousing the others. Some panicked and tried to run away, while others began shooting wildly. After a few moments of terror and confusion, all lay dead or dying. Presumably, one survived long enough to give an account.

Getting there:

The Ghost House is within earshot of the north-south railroad, and you could walk there from Minsyong TRA Station in about an hour. If you’re driving or riding from downtown Minsyong, follow Wenhua Road southward for about 3km to Local Road 82 (嘉82). Turn left onto Local Road 82, then left again after 300m. The trees behind which the Ghost House stands are obvious. Enter through the doorway above which the Buddhist mantra Namo Amitabha (南無阿彌陀佛) has been stenciled.

Others attribute the building’s spookiness to a dispute during construction between the owner (or, according to some versions of this story, the architect in charge) on one side, and the joiner, stone-mason and bricklayer on the other. He not only scolded these workers, but also cheated them out of some of their wages. To get their own back, they embedded curses and spells in the walls and the foundations. After the Liu family moved in, they were tormented by mysterious footsteps and inexplicable sounds which induced what doctors nowadays would call stress-related disorders.

Then there’s the “haunted water-tank” tale. When one of the owner’s grown-up daughters was paying a visit, she turned on a faucet to wash her hands, and found the water to be strikingly cold. When a plumber was sent upstairs to check the water-tank, he immediately ran back down, pale and shocked. When he’d reached the top floor and got close to the water-tank, he reported, he’d heard human voices coming from within. There were men, women and children, all screaming.

To ward off evil spirits, the owner’s wife invited a Taoist priest to position a mahogany sword (桃花心木劍, an item traditionally used to improve fengshui (風水) and repel ghosts) within the house. In light of the mansion’s subsequent abandonment, this obviously didn’t work.

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