[Morbid Legend] Human Pillars: Chinese Urban Legend

In 2006, a construction sites for relocating some water pipe lines in Hong Kong led to a discovery of 8 skeletons (1 adult and 7 children, according to all local news reports). The locals, especially those from one generation older immediately thought this was linked to this spooky old belief.

One of the morbid urban legends that is not well known in the Chinese society would be human pillars. In the old days, buildings collapsed because of different reasons. We would say it is because of the architecture, the engineering, or even natural disasters in today’s terminologies. Instead, people would put it as a punishment from spirits or even supreme beings. Legend has it that Lu Ban, an ancient Chinese carpenter, engineer and inventor was the one provoked this practice of human pillars. He purported that because building large infrastructures on the earth surface and all the diggings will irritate the Lord of Earth. Thus, from the spiritual extent, some rituals are needed to calm the Lord in order to ensure safety of the buildings.

In general, human pillar is a type of human sacrifices. The practice uses criminals that were sentenced to death originally. However, demand for buildings has exceeded the supply of criminals. Someone then suggested using kids as offerings to the Lord. For each building project, before laying the foundation, the developer would need to find a pair of children consists of one boy and one girl, and buried alive. Some said before burying them, the children would be fed with concrete. And the first foundation would be hit on the bodies of the buried children. For instance, they were building a bridge, the boy would buried in the one end, and the girl would be on the other. People believed that all these sacrificed children would later become the guardian angels of the buildings and infrastructure. Not sure if it is mere luck, or they are really dealing with some supreme spiritual energy here, since the adaptation of this practice, no more “mysterious” collapses of buildings.

This morbid legend was not only practiced and found in Chinese legends, but also in ancient Thai and Japanese culture. Occasionally, due to city and urban development, governments or authorities may find some human remains (e.g. bones) in some construction sites, like the case mentioned in the beginning. These scenarios make people connect the above morbid legend with the found remains.

We may never know the truth, but the spooky urban tale did successfully add some mysterious taste to the bones located.