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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
China's ghost town vanishes
By Tony Cheng
The BBC's East Asia Today

The Yangtze River lies at the heart of Chinese civilisation.

Some of the earliest artefacts of Chinese history were found on its banks, and the river is a central theme that runs through Chinese literature.

That literature also has a rich tradition of ghost stories, and until recently, one city on the river epitomised many of those other-worldly beliefs.

Engineer at the dam
The ghost city is a victim of China's massive Three Gorges Dam
But now, that city itself has disappeared, its ghosts claimed by the spirits of the Yangtze.

"Fengdu is a tourist attraction for the Chinese people. We call it Ghost City," said Hu Yu Kua, a tour guide, who has been working on the Yangtze River for the past 15 years.

The City of Ghosts is one of her most popular destinations.

"Chinese people are very interested in the city. There are as many legendary stories as historical stories about it," she said.

"And when the water rises to 175 metres (570 feet) above the sea level, the ghost city will have completely disappeared," she said.

Vanishing act

When I visited Fengdu in November last year, it certainly lived up to its reputation as a ghost town. Most of the 750,000 people who lived there had deserted.

Entering in the early morning light, the empty shells of people's homes were lit only by the fires of the elderly who had refused the leave.

When the water rises to 175m above the sea level, the ghost city will have completely disappeared
From the vantage point of a ghost temple on a hill overlooking the city, you could see that most of it had already been destroyed.

Today as you pass down the river, Fengdu has almost completely disappeared.

It has been submerged in the reservoir behind China's Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam construction project in the world.

A 500km (325 mile) long lake has been created, and more than a million people have been moved out of their ancestral homes.

Locals have a final look of their hometown which will be flooded after the dam's reservoir begins its water storage
A million people have been relocated because of the dam
But despite initial misgivings, government spokeswoman Jiang Qi Yu said the migration process had now been accepted.

"First, some of the peasants didn't really understand this policy, and some expressed a willingness to stay behind," she said.

"But later on, they realised they had a better standard of living outside their previous quarters, so now people are satisfied with their new way of life."

For a minority clan living just below the dam, this new life looks good. Their village has been turned into a scenic tourist spot.

As the mist rolls down the lush mountains, they sing from their boats to the throngs of tourists looking down at them from above.

But despite the opportunities offered by the new dam for the living, the dead will fare far worse.

For the Chinese, the soul lives on while it is worshiped.

Now that generations of tombs have been consigned to the depths of the Three Gorges Reservoir, the ghosts of Fengdu will be joined in their watery home by those whose descendants have been forced to desert them.

The BBC's Tony Cheng
"The river is a central theme that runs through Chinese literature"

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