Home » Episodes » Episode 47 – Dusseldorf, Germany & Beijing, China (Phantom Boners)

It’s spooky season! Prepare yourself for a whole month of creeptastic stories. This week, Rachel goes full psycho and shares the horrific story of the Vampire of Dusseldorf, Peter Kürten. Then, Emily shares the horrible past of the Ming Dynasty, especially the reign of Yongle, a man who had 9,000 concubines and killed thousands of them ruthlessly. Those concubines now haunt the Forbidden City in Beijing with a vengeance. Hopefully, you’re horrified.

The Peter Kurten Story

Today I am also taking us back in time… not quite to the 9th century, but definitely in a busted-ass time machine because this story has an extra dose of horrible. I’m going to tell you about The Vampire of Dusseldorf: Peter Kurten.

Honestly, I don’t’ know what I was thinking. Maybe that vampire sounded spooky? But remember when you covered Richard Chase, and we realized that real serial killers who are referred to as vampires are not actually sparkly and trying to mate with humans? Welllllllll…… brace yourselves.

Peter Kurten was born on May 26, 1883 in a suburb of Cologne, Germany, and his childhood was not awesome. He was the oldest of 13 children, and he was born into extremely impoverished circumstances. Like, he, his 12 siblings, and both of his parents lived in a one-room apartment together. And as if having to share that space with that many people isn’t already a nightmare, Peter’s father was a sadistic alcoholic who physically and sexually abused his wife and his children.

By age 9, Peter was being groomed by a dog-catcher in his building. This asshole introduced the troubled child to not only sex… but bestiality. And Peter began sexually assaulting dogs. Just a reminder. He. Is. 9.

He also started murdering people at age 9. The source I read said he pushed one child overboard – I think they were on a raft, which makes sense, because Dusseldorf has a lot of beautiful rivers and canals. Picture that serene view to get ready for me to tell you this: 9-year-old Peter pushed in the one kid. A second child jumped in to rescue him, and Peter held them both underwater until they were drowned. I looked, but I could not find the names of these victims, probably because they were so young. And, it wasn’t considered a murder at the time. It was considered an accident.

I know. This is starting out tragically and it doesn’t get better. Puberty is not great for anyone. And in Peter’s case, it triggered even more sexual deviance in the form of bestiality. He started raping sheep and goats and pigs… started stabbing them while he was sexually assaulting them. Because he could only reach orgasm when he was stabbing them.

In 1866, Peter Kurten was 16. He started engaging in some petty crimes, and he ran away from home to escape his abusive father. Apparently, the last straw for Peter was that his father was arrested for “incestuous relations” with his 13-year-old daughter, Peter’s sister. First of all, that’s not the right name for rape. Also, let’s play a game I’m calling: Severe Disappointment. How many years do you think this father got for the rape of his daughter?

Three. I can’t….

Okay, so that brings us to 1904. Just for a time reference, WWI started in 1914, so this was just a little while before that So Peter gets called for service, and he’s awful at it. He ends up going AWOL. Now, Emily, you and I are not meant for military life. So I honestly get the idea of wanting to leave. But after you do, you lay low, right? Well, not this douche canoe. He starts lighting some fires, and then he keeps coming back to the scene of the crime to watch the chaos it creates. So he’s arrested for arson, and they’re all, heeeyyyyy aren’t you that guy who ran away from the barracks?  So he goes to prison for the 3rd time.

This time, Peter Kurten claims that he was subjected to torture. Which, honestly, I think could be true – I don’t even want to imagine what was going on in German prisons in the early 1900s. But then, when he would think about the torture he was allegedly put through, he would come in his pants. Just a trigger warning. If you don’t want to hear how often this guy came, maybe just skip ahead to Emily’s story because it’s about to happen a lot.

It’s also said that while he was imprisoned, his sexual sadism only grew. He got super into this fantasy world, particularly when he was in solitary confinement. He would fantasize about the most horrible things he could do to people, and he would act out in order to get the most time possible in solitary.

I would have sung the song, but this whole thing is just wildly inappropriate. Anywho, unfortunately for society, he is released in 1913. It was longest stint in prison up until that point. And he felt like it was sooooo unfair that he was kept in there so long for deserting the military and burning down a few buildings. I hate this guy.

But now, let’s all take a deep breath and prepare for the next part of this story.

On May 25, 1913, 10-year-old Christine Klein was spending time home alone while her parents worked in their pub, which was just below Christine’s bedroom. I’m assuming it’s an apartment-above-a-bar kind of a situation. Peter Kurten broke into her home. Allegedly, he was just going to rob them, but when he saw Christine, he remembered all of those erotic fantasies from prison. He strangled the child, slashed her throat, and, while listening to her blood drip to the floor… he came.

Peter had no connections to the Klein family, and as we know, this type of brutal violence from a total stranger is pretty rare. I guess Christine’s uncle came under suspicion, because he had had a recent argument with Christine’s father.

Luckily, there wasn’t enough evidence to tie the uncle to Christine’s murder and rape… you know, because he was innocent, but that doesn’t always stop people from wanting to see someone come to justice, especially when they harm a child. But Peter Kurten was living his sadistic wet dream. He came back to the scene of the crime and watched the chaos. He might as well have been eating popcorn. So disgusting. And, it gets worse. Peter Kurten would go on to follow the uncle’s case closely. And… this is truly awful. He would visit Christine’s grave on a regular basis, touch the soil, and climax.

Two months later, he committed the exact same crime. Broke into a 17-year-old girl’s home, burglarized it, strangled her, slit her throat, and you guessed it, came when he saw her blood.

This seems like it would have kept going pretty rapidly, but luckily Peter went back to jail for the first time. For murder, you ask? No. For arson, obviously. Oh and burglary. He was imprisoned for 8 years, and released in 1921.

Ok, are you ready to revisit the orange sock theory? This asshole moved to Altenburg and married a shop owner and former sex worker, Auguste Scharf. And, maybe soul mates do exist, because this woman was also a murderer. She killed her then fiancé. So the two killers lived as normally as they could for about four years, and Peter became a molder. He worked in a normal trade!

I wish this was the end of the gruesome story. But grab your crosses and wooden stakes because we haven’t even gotten to the vampire shit yet.

And even star-crossed lovers have their issues. Peter was cheating on Auguste; apparently he was sleeping with two of their maids. So she asked one of them to press charges against Peter, claiming that he raped her. I don’t know if this is the truth – I have a hard time believing anyone would have consensual sex with this man, but I’m more concerned with how they were able to afford multiple maids. Anywho, the maid did come forward and say that Peter had raped her, and Peter went to prison for the fifth time, but only for 6 months.

After he was released, he moved back to Dusseldorf. I don’t know what it is about this city that’ seemed to trigger the monster in him, because from all the research I did, it looks quite beautiful. I have a theory as your friendly neighborhood therapist, which is that Peter was the type of psychopath who could push down all his trauma and pretend it didn’t happen well enough to fit into normal society… as long as his trauma wasn’t triggered. And in Dusseldorf, I’m going to guess that everything felt like a trigger for his childhood. And I think he was a pretty decent blend of nature and nurture, because out of all 13 of those abused kids, he was the only one to be a murderer. My guess is that he was born a psychopath.

Okay, so he started committing petty crimes back in Dusseldorf. But that wasn’t enough for him, so he started engaging in a little arson… and raping people. He is said to be responsible for 4 sexual assaults between 1925 and 1929. I’m unclear as to whether he also murdered the women he raped. I do know that one woman, Maria Kuhn, survived Peter Kurten’s attack by stabbing him. 24 times. Baaaadddd bitcccchhhh. She’s amazing, but seriously, how traumatic.

On February 9, 1929, Peter killed a 9-year-old girl, Rosa Ohliger. He stabbed her 13 times… and.. so many trigger warnings… he came as he killed her. Then, he dumped her body under a bush, and tried to light her body on fire so there would be no evidence of the rape and murder. I’m assuming her body didn’t burn completely, because the sources I read said “attempted.”

Over the next 15 months, Peter Kurten went on a murderous rampage. I looked for the names of the victims, and honestly, a lot of them are not listed anywhere, which is crazy frustrating. He killed girls, women and men. One of whom was a 45-year-old mechanic named Scheer. And Peter again returned to the scene of the crime to talk with the cops about this poor guy and his multiple stab wounds. This is also when he started to engage in those vampiric, cannibalistic, tendencies. Allegedly, after he stabbed one victim, a young girl, with a pair of scissors, he drank her blood as it poured out of her neck.

Of course, a shit ton of murders in just over a year made headlines. And, remember, at this time, if the police had a theory, the press knew about it. The press knew that the serial killer was drinking his victims’ blood. So that’s great. But also it’s how he got the nickname “the Vampire of Dusseldorf.”

And he kept getting away with it. I’m sure there were multiple reasons for this, including a lack of forensic capabilities in 1929. Also, there was this guy named Strausberg who threw a bit of a wrench in the case. Strausberg had a learning disability, and he gave a false confession to all of the vampire killings. They admitted him to an asylum, and police were all, “great job team. We got him.”

But, I hope someone told them not to get out the streamers just yet. In August, 1929, there were some more murders. This time, the MO was slightly different. Victims were still stabbed, but they were strangled as well. The last of this string of murders was a double murder of foster sisters, 5-yiear-old Gertrude Hamacher and 14-year-old Louise Lenzen.

The very next day, Peter Kurten attempted to sexually assault and kill another woman, but she got away. Thank god. And she went straight to the police to describe this guy. She said he was pleasant-looking and around 40-years-old.

Unfortunately, this is not when he was caught. The more the media got worked up into a frenzy over these murders, the more murders Peter Kurten committed. In September 1929, Peter killed Ida Reuter, and in October he murdered a domestic employee named Elizabeth Dorrie. He also attacked two other people, Meurer and Wanders, WITH A HAMMER. This guy keeps switching his MO and it keeps getting worse and worse. These people luckily survived. But no one could describe him. He looks like any other guy in the late ‘20s in Germany. Obviously I’ll post a picture. But he wears the Bowler hat and he has the Hitler mustache. So police have a super hard time finding him.

On November 9, 1929, Peter takes his lust for the media attention to an even more morbid level. He writes a newspaper, giving them a map that leads to the dumping place for his most recent victim, 5-year-old Gertrude Albermann.

After this, Peter Kurten took a break from murder, you know, for the holidays. He was still attacking people, but they all survived. And of course, people with the “I survived the Vampire of Dusseldorf” t-shirts were running to police and media, and there is mass hysteria, and this douchebag is just eating it all up.

Thankfully, we are now getting to the beginning of the end. On May 14, 1930, Peter Kurten offered his home to a young woman, Maria Budlick. He took her to his apartment and asked her for sex – which is weird – but she said no, so he said he would find her somewhere else to stay. He walked her to the train station, but before they could get there, he forced her into a nearby forest, where he raped her, and then he released her. Maria didn’t go straight to the police; she wrote a letter to a friend, telling them about everything that happened, but karma is a bitch, and she mis-addressed the letter. It somehow ended up going to a postal worker, who turned it in to the police. And for the record, I mean Peter’s

I don’t know why he would do this, and PS, Maria Budlick knew who he was. Or at the very least, she had been to his house. So Peter realizes he’s screwed, and he decides he needs to confess to everything and make sure his wife is okay. He told her everything about being the Vampire of Dusseldorf, and I mean everything. In detail. I can’t even imagine. But he told her that she should turn him in, and then she could get the reward for his arrest.

Girl, when I tell you that SHE DIDN’T WANT TO TURN HIM IN, I about spit out my coffee writing this. Like, I love you, you know this. If you told me you were raping and murdering children, I would turn you in so fast. But thankfully she did turn him in on May 24, 1930, and Peter Kurten surrendered to the police without a fuss.

And, remember how this guy likes to relive his crimes. He must have been so excited, because when he was in custody, he told a psychologist about all of his crimes, in detail. All-in, he stated that he committed 79 individual crimes. Apparently, Peter Kurten had a photographic memory, so he could remember all the details and then relive them for his own sadistic pleasure.

His trial started on April 13, 1931. He was charged with 9 murders and 7 attempted murders, but I’m guessing that was all there was enough evidence for, because he definitely murdered more people than that. At first, Peter Kurten retracted his confession, saying that he was just looking out for his wife’s financial security.

But, after some questioning and a shit-ton of evidence, it was clear that Peter Kurten was guilty. He admitted to everything, but said it wasn’t his fault *eye roll.* It was his childhood trauma and the prison system… definitely not anything he did himself. And he did not feel any remorse.

After 2 months of being on this jury and listening to, what I’m pretty sure would have been the most horrible case to be a part of, the jury reached a guilty verdict within 90 minutes.

Peter Kurten was executed by guillotine on July 2, 1931. Want to hear the most horrible last words, maybe ever? “Tell me, after my head is chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”

And, there is one more thing about the head. It was saved, so it could be analyzed, because this man was a straight-up psychopath. And, if you’re into it, you can GO SEE HIS HEAD. It lives at Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not Museum in Wisconsin. Girl, I will post pictures; it’s just a skull now but it’s split in half because you know, guillotine. And PS, when it was analyzed, his brain didn’t look physically abnormal at all.

And that is the least fun vampire story maybe ever. Peter Kurten, the vampire of Dusseldorf. Go fuck yourself. I will now be scrubbing that story from my brain, and I suggest you all do the same.

The Ming Dynasty’s Forbidden City

Today I want to tell you about the incredibly horrible history of the Forbidden City… and it’s very haunted present.

First, some stats about The Forbidden City itself. The Forbidden City isn’t actually a “city” so to speak, but more of a palace compound. Today it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Beijing and this place is MASSIVE. It was commissioned in 1406… and it is 7.75 MILLION sq ft. It is estimated that 1 million laborers worked to complete the structure. It has more than 90 palace quarters and courtyards, 980 buildings and over 8,700 rooms. This. Place. Is. Huge. It took us 4-5 hours to walk through the whole thing and we didn’t even really do a tour or stop and read everything. 

The Forbidden City falls into three parts: the defenses (moat and wall), the Outer Court and the Inner Court.

So, around the city there is a 52-meter wide moat as the first line of defense. Another For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall, which has a circumference of 2 miles. At each corner of the Forbidden City, there are magnificent watchtowers – these would have been heavily guarded during the time when emperors lived there.

The outer court has three main buildings, where emperors attended grand ceremonies. 

The first hall is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors’ Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall. In Qing Dynasty, it was mainly used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.

The second hall, behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperors would rehearse their speeches and presentations here before departing to the Temple of Heaven for the sacrifice rites.

The last hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian), used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.

There are a couple of side gardens with interesting halls to explore. Finally, the emperors lived and worked mostly in the Inner Court.

Out from the Hall of the Preserving Harmony, you will notice a huge block of marble carved with cloud and dragon designs. Go straight, and you will see another gate, called the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen). This is the main gateway to the inner living court.

The inner court has three main structures at the northern rear of the Forbidden City:

  • The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong). Before Emperor Yongzheng (r. 1722–35), it was the residence of the emperor. Later it became the emperor’s audience hall.
  • The second structure, behind it is the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian), where the imperial seals were stored.
  • The third hall is the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the empress. In the Qing Dynasty, it became a shamanist worship place. It was also used on the emperor’s wedding night.

So now that we have our bearings… let’s talk about why. Why was this massive palace compound built back in the 1400’s? Who decided to commission this sucker? The answer is the Chinese Ming Dynasty. This dynasty reigned supreme for 276 years from 1368 – 1644 AD, and has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.” This dynasty became a global superpower, undertaking major sea expeditions before Christopher Columbus, and producing books before the invention of the printing press in Britain. While this dynasty was praised for its stability and innovation there was a darker, more gruesome underbelly. 

So, let’s start in 1368 when The Hongwu Emperor founded the Ming Dynasty. This emperor is considered to be one of the most influential and important Chinese Emperors. He actually started out as a penniless monk who wandered around China barefoot, uphill both ways…. And at the end of his life he was one of the most powerful warlords in Asia. Quite the underdog story – haha. He gained all of his power when he commanded the army that expelled the Mongol invaders who had ruled China for a century. Now, I know that we said this was in Beijing, but the beginning of this story actually takes place in Nanjing. We’ll get to Beijing a little bit later. 

But first, the Ming Dynasty begins…. And the reason why it was called the Ming dynasty is because after the Hongwu emperor established his dominance – won his dick swinging contest – and then he adopted the name “ming” which is the mandarin word for brilliant. This guy was ruthless… not only on the battlefield but at home as well. He kept concubines confined and subjected them to torture. He was jealous constantly even though he had dozens of women that he cycled between… so he controlled every aspect of their lives. This was the time of foot binding in China and so they couldn’t even run away … or walk! Sometimes they just were carried naked into his chambers to “perform.”  He even worked to control them from beyond the grave, aka when he died, he ordered all of his concubines be killed, forced to commit suicide, or buried alive alongside his dead ass. 

So, when the first Ming emperor died in 1398 he left behind orders that his 20-year-old nephew Jianwen should be his successor. This royally pissed off Ming’s actual son, Yongle, who was 38 years old… so it wasn’t even that Ming was like “my kid is too young to rule” nope – he just didn’t like him apparently. Or maybe he was concerned with what an asshole Yongle was. Yongle was a super aggressive warrior and he was pretty sure that his father should have given him the throne. So he started drinking pretty heavily – drowning away those sorrows at the tavern. And while he was there, the bartender was like “Dude you deserve to be the emperor!” and called him the true son of heaven and basically pumped him up. Slapped him on the ass on the way out of the bar and said “go get um tiger!”  ACTUALLY he was a little less football coachy about it and a little more prophetic. He told Yongle that he would be the emperor “when his beard reached his navel” – so obviously Yongle immediately bought some rogaine and started measuring his beard regularly. 

Three years later, once his beard had grown to his navel, he led his forces to Nanjing to kill his young nephew. At first, the nephew (Jianwen) believed he was safe behind Nanjing’s unbreachable defences, but then he learned that one of his generals had betrayed him, opening the gates to the invaders. When Jianwen found out that his death was eminent, he decided he was going to complete suicide. Better take things into his own hands than die at the hands of his bloodthirsty asshole of an uncle.

But then! an old eunuch who had served under Hongwu scuttled in with a message from beyond the grave… apparently Hongwu anticipated his son trying something like this and had written some instructions for just the occasion.  In the instructions, Hongwu had provided a map of secret passageways under the city. He also provided orange robes and a razor for Jianwen to shave his head so he could escape into the countryside disguised as a Buddhist monk.

Here’s a weird twist though. As he fled, Jianwen burned the palace to the ground, leaving his family to die inside rather than face his uncle’s wrath. Seems harsh. BUT, it also might have been for another cause because when Yongle found the blackened bodies of the empress and their six-year-old son they also found the corpse of a young man… burnt beyond recognition of course. So, Yongle was like “oh good….. He’s dead…..”  But rumours were circulating about a mysterious monk seen running from the city shortly before the fire. So even though Yongle was hopeful that Jianwen was dead, he kind of tended to be looking over his shoulder all the time… worrying that Jianwen might return to claim his throne.

To combat this mental anguish, Yongle basically began a reign of terror. He was determined to prove that he was “heaven’s chosen agent on Earth.” The first step to make this happen? He needed a respected scholar to draft a paper trail to make sure there was documentation about his succession. Here’s the thing, the scholar (whose name was Fang which is awesome) wasn’t having any of it. He didn’t want to write that down because he didnt think that Yongle should be emperor. This, of course, pissed Yongle off so he had him killed, as one does. 

Fang had the last word though. As he lay dying on the palace floor, he drew the Chinese character for “usurper” in his own blood.

Unfortunately, this had a somewhat negative impact on the nation as Yongle got really insecure and decided to purge the capital of all his political opponents, killing tens of thousands of people. He also decided to start anew in a new city. And this is where we make the transition over to Beijing. 

Beijing was about 500 miles north of Nanjing. This is where he decided to have “The Forbidden City,” built. It was another attempt to legitimize his claim to be the supreme ruler of all China. Loads of insecurity over here, guys. 

So, after the imperial palace was built and he had settled into the role of supreme ruler…. He basically took full advantage of his power. And the cliff notes of this story is that he used his power to have as much as pass humanly possible… So, how does one make that happen when they are an emperor? Concubines! In fact, all pretty girls had to be reported to the authorities – Yongle wanted full access to anyone he liked –  and anyone who hid their daughters or cut off their hair to make them ugly was arrested and stripped of everything they owned.

Now, we’ve heard of some people who have had 5 wives… or even 10… 15.. People who seem to have an insatiable appetite for ladies. They had NOTHING on Yongle. This man had THOUSANDS of concubines. Like, some sources literally say that he had more than 9000 women.  if he called a different concubine to his bed every night, it would take him more than 24 years to cycle through the whole lot. And this was not a fun role to play for these women. That might sound like the most captain obvious statement of all time, but it’s probably worse than what you’re picturing life as a concubine to be. 

First, let’s talk about HOW they found these wives. I mentioned that people couldn’t hide away their daughters. Here is a rundown of how emperors would find their women. 

  • First they would send eunuchs across the country to handpick young women aged 13 to 16 to be his wives
  • During the first round of selection, the women stood in lines of 100 according to age.
  • One thousand would be eliminated for being too tall, short, fat, or thin.
  • On the second day, eunuchs intensively examined the women’s bodies, and evaluated their voices and general mannerisms.
  • Another 2,000 were cut.
  • The third day was spent observing their feet, hands, and movements (for gracefulness).
  • Another 1,000 were sent home.
  • The remaining 1,000 underwent gynecological examinations, eliminating another 700.
  • The remaining 300 were then housed in the palace for a month to undergo tests of intelligence, merit, temperament, and moral character.
  • The top 50 candidates were subject to further examinations and interviews about math, literature, and the arts—and were ranked accordingly.
  • The three favorites received the highest ranking for imperial concubines.

I’m glad to know that with my chubby body, large feet and irritating temperament, I would not be selected. LOL 

Well, all of these women had one role. To keep the emperor’s sexual well-being at peak performance. It was actually believed to be essential to the well-being of the entire empire, so there were thousands of women set up in to make sure he was taken care of. Secretaries meticulously managed the emperor’s sex schedule, strictly regimenting the rotation of concubines who slept with the emperor. This schedule was based on a strict astrological calendar; this was meant to ensure the emperor was having sex with the right woman on the right day, depending upon the time and circumstances of their birth. This was to ensure his love-making accorded with the wishes of heaven, but it meant a particular concubine might not be called to the imperial bed-chamber for many years, and some were never summoned at all.

Usually, these were lower-ranking concubines… the ones who were tasked with simply pleasuring the emperor. They weren’t expected to bear children and basically, when not entertaining the emperor, the women spent their days sewing, painting, and applying makeup.

Beauty, during this time in China, was more of a curse than a blessing.

Now one caveat to all this is that even though some of the concubines literally only had sex with the emperor once in the matter of YEARS, they weren’t allowed to be with anyone else. This lack of contact with the emperor might explain why some concubines resorted to so-called “vegetarian” affairs with the eunuchs that were meant to serve as sexless helpers for the concubines. Now it is said that the Chinese were pioneers of sex aids, so it’s possible that these relationships went beyond just intense emotional affairs… they may also have been partly physical, but – whatever their nature – they were forbidden.

This made me wonder about Eunuchs, because honestly I never know exactly what they are and was too afraid to ask. I wasn’t sure if it was removal of all the sex organs or just the testicles… and turns out, it kind of depends on the tradition of the region they’re in. In the Chinese tradition they remove both the penis and the testicles. It’s like a Ken doll down there. And, this was pretty horrible. Not only because they definitely didn’t have anestesia at this time so they were having their dicks removed without pain meds….. But also castration creates a much-diminished sex drive, because their bodies have very low levels of the male hormone testosterone. This lowers the frequency, strength, and duration of erections, and can cause hot flashes, vertigo, loss of body hair, and breast growth.

Fun facts, fun facts. 

OK – so here’s where the story gets even worse, because when the Forbidden CIty was finally officially finished (remember it took 14 years to complete), several high foreign dignitaries decided to come visit Beijing. Apparently, at this point, Yongle decided he had to get rid of his enormous harem. I’m not totally understanding of WHY he felt he needed to get rid of them, but he felt it was necessary. SO… on one horrific night in 1421, the emperor ordered his soldiers to kill nearly 3,000 people connected to his harem. It is said that that night, the polished floors of the palace were flooded with blood. Girls as young as 12 or 13 were brutally ripped apart. The eunuchs and servants who watched over his so-called concubines were also slaughtered. Some were decapitated, others hacked to pieces. 

Shortly after this horrific incident, another blow came to Yongle’s ego. A rumor started circulating that one of the emperor’s favourite concubines had committed suicide because she had an affair with a palace eunuch due to the emperor’s impotence. Which I know isn’t funny but it did make me laugh at the thought of a woman deciding to kill herself because her boyfriend couldn’t get an erection. 

Anywho, Yongle was obviously humiliated and you don’t humiliate a man with this level of ego unless you want some serious consequences. So, the emperor set to work silencing anyone who knew about this whole impotence situation. He was like YOU CAN’T TELL ME THAT I CAN’T PUT PANDORA BACK IN THE BOX! 

First things first, he told the rest of the palace that the concubine in question had been poisoned… not suicided, and then he rounded up 2,800 women from his harem and had them all executed by slicing. Slicing is sometimes also known as death by a thousand cuts. If that isn’t horrific I don’t know what is. Anywho, in this mass execution girls as young as 12 years old were put to death. 

Now, while there is no mention of this massacre in the official record, a written account does exist because one of his concubines, Lady Cui, kept a detailed diary and made sure to include that info. Speaking of Lady Cui, she was one of Yongle’s favorite concubines. She was the daughter of a Korean government official who at only 14-years-old was taken 600 miles from her home to Beijing to serve the emperor. Here’s a super gross fact – when they first brought Lady Cui “home” to the palace she was taught the art of lovemaking. It is said that that means “reading textbooks and studying erotic paintings that showed them how to please the emperor.” I’m guessing there were a few other lessons that we would rather not know about. 

Now even though Lady Cui was one of Yongle’s favorites, this didn’t stop him from making sure she stayed with him foooreevvverrrrr. That’s right, when Yongle eventually died in 1424 and he made sure that his 15 favorite concubines got a nice send off as well. All 15 of them were hung from the ceilings in the halls of the Forbidden City on the day of his funeral. They hung them with white silk nooses. 

Even after Yongle died… the torture and horrible practices took place in the Forbidden City for years. Even in 1505, the tenth Ming ruler, Zhengde, grew tired of concubines and was obsessed instead with the life of an ordinary citizen. He would slip out in the night, in disguise, and frequent local brothels. Of course, this did not stop him from collecting so many concubines that, it is said, many starved to death as there was not enough food to feed them or room to house them. 

Many historians claim that it was Zhengde’s rule that led to the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. His successor Jiajing was obsessed with finding an elixir for provide him with eternal life and he believed the key ingredient in this elixir to be the menstrual blood of virgins. During his reign, he ordered that thousands of girls should be rounded up and taken to the Forbidden City to be “harvested.” To ensure that their bodies were pure, their diets were restricted to mulberries and dew. Many died from starvation due to this cruel diet.

But in 1542, a group of 16 concubines fought back. The women took action on a night that the emperor spent in the chambers of his favorite concubine. After the concubine withdrew with her attendants, the emperor was left alone, and the palace women took the opportunity to attack. Now these ladies had great intentions to make sure they got the job done… but they weren’t super successful. Probably because these were teeny tiny little women who weren’t very strong. 

So first, they held down the emperor while one concubine tried to strangle him with a ribbon from her hair. When this failed, they tied a silk curtain cord around his neck but unfortunately tied the wrong kind of knot and were not able to tighten the noose to finish the job. One of the conspirators panicked and reported the assassination attempt. Of course, that was the end of it for these women… They were put to death by ‘slow-slicing’, which as I mentioned before is also known also as ‘death by a thousand cuts’. And, for fun, the families of these women were also executed.

I’m sure that all of what I’ve just shared only scratches the surface of the horrible that was inflicted during the multi century Ming dynasty and its time in the Forbidden City, but since this is spooky season I want to transition to talking about the NOW. Because any place where that much murder happens, is just pretty much CERTAIN to be haunted. 

In fact, although the palace hasn’t been home to an emperor for a long time and is now open to tourists… it still closes well before nightfall, because that is when the ghosts appear. It is said that five o’clock in the evening is the most cloudy moment of the day. Many tourists staying in the Forbidden City often feel a gloomy cold at that moment, even in the hot summer. Some visitors say they feel sad and have the sense of great loss when they visit the Forbidden City. Now, I didn’t feel any spooky things while I was there, but I will say that my roommate and I fought while there after having had a lovely trip up until that point AND she twisted her ankle while there, which is likely totally coincidental, but…. shrug.

In addition to “creepy feelings” there is a LOT of reported paranormal activity at the City. 

According to an old man who used to be the gatekeeper of the Forbidden City, he hears some strange footsteps and strange music every night. Sometimes he has seen a group of eunuchs and palace ladies walking in line. Interestingly, this gatekeeper has a child that is not in good health and he is convinced that it is because he spent so much time in the walls of the city and it had bad enough juju to affect his next generation, essentially. 

Ghostly music has also been heard playing at night and groups of ghostly women in waiting and eunuchs have been seen walking through the corridors only to disappear around the corner.

There’s one story about a man who was walking by the wall near the Treasures of the Forbidden City, and he suddenly saw a pair of people lighting palace lanterns in the distance. He was curious, so he wanted to step forward and take a look. But he couldn’t catch up with the team of people with lanterns. He looked closely trying to see who these people were and it seemed like a court lady wearing old school clothes from during the Ming dynasty.

In the mid 1990s, a guard reported being bothered by a strange woman with long hair and a black gown. Assuming that she was a thief, they chased the woman for some distance, cornering her in a room and locking a door behind them. They then ordered her to turn around. When she did she turned around and had no face. Just long black hair. 

Visitors have reported seeing the ghost of a white lady with black hair who’s trying to outrun a soldier who is chasing her. Screaming, crying and the sounds of clashing swords have been heard.There are also claims of piles of phantom bodies on the polished floors. Last but not least, people have seen orbs and pools of blood. Pieces of white silk have been seen floating through the air.

People also see ghost dogs and cats running in the narrow corridors at the edges of the labyrinth that is the Forbidden City. Another unique thing about the FOrbidden City is that every doorway has a door jam that’s probably 2 inches off the ground. So, you have to really take a step to get through the door and you can’t miss it or you’ll fall down! Well, apparently tour guides say it’s purposeful. THey were built like that because “ghosts can’t jump and it will trap them in the room they are in.”

If ghosts are trapped in the rooms of the Forbidden City, it may be a reason why so much of the city is “off limits” – hundreds of rooms are said to be off limits because they are “under construction” but then they never get fixed. Some people think this is because they are so haunted that the guards don’t want to let tourists in. And with as many people dying in that place… I’d venture to guess those rooms are FULL to the brim. 

And that is the horrible history of the Ming Dynasty’s Forbidden City and the ghosts that haunt it to this day.


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