Here we present a chapter from Chinese Ghosts, Charles Emmons’ cornucopia of ghost stories and experiences he collected in Hong Kong in the early 1980s. He updated the book for a new edition last year.


Chapter 9: Anatomy of a Legend

This is a very interesting case that helps illustrate the social processes involved in rumor, and sometimes eventually folklore.

I had been in Hong Kong only two weeks working on this research in June 1980, when I began to hear about ghosts at a certain institution of higher learning, which I shall simply refer to as “the college.” Although there were a few other minor miscellaneous ghosts mentioned, one kept cropping up: “Have you heard about the. . . ?” they would say helpfully. Most people I talked to at the college seemed to have heard of it.

The first version came from a female student attending the college. Supposedly, a Professor X had seen the ghost of a student right after the student had committed suicide due to the grade on his exam. I was immediately intrigued and thought about requesting an interview with the professor, whom she identified by name and department. However, I was also afraid that the subject might be rather sensitive, even painful, if the professor felt somehow responsible for the student’s death.

As the weeks and months went by, I kept hearing about it occasionally but was never convinced to investigate until I met another student at the college in October who told me a much fuller version. Professor X, he said, was waiting for the elevator at the bottom of the Z Building. A man and a woman were there together, too. When the three of them went into the elevator, Professor X pressed the button for his floor and asked the others what their floor was. They said 12, but there were only ten floors in the building. They also said that they wanted to pick up their diplomas and graduation certificates. They did not press a button. In the elevator, he saw their faces turn color. He got out alone at his floor, but then saw them again outside the elevator coming toward the elevator! He got scared and went quickly down to the parking lot. By his car, he saw them again. Later on, he went to the Administration Building to check th