In Chaoyangmen, Beijing, stands an abandoned house. Known as Chaonei No.81 or Chaonei Church, it has a reputation for being haunted. And that reputation increased vastly in 2014 after the house appeared in a 3D horror movie called The House that Never Dies.
Since then, and even before, ghost stories started to appear about the house. One of them included a woman who hung herself and a British priest who tried to convert the house into a church but went missing before he could do it.
There are so many rumors about this house, making it a fun tourist attraction in Beijing. Truth be told, there are no historical records about who actually built the Chaonei No.81. There is no info about the purpose of the house over the years.
This has left plenty of room for rumors, conspiracy theories, and legends to appear. Let’s find out more.
History of the House
As we said before, there is no detailed history. Xu Wen, one of the property’s groundskeepers, said “the history is very difficult to get straight” in 2014. Talking to the New York Times, Wen tried to explain some of the possible history.
The common belief is that the house was built around 1910 as the North China Union Language School, designed to teach Mandarin Chinese to missionaries from the west.
Then, two decades later, it expanded its educational mandate and welcomed businessmen, diplomats, and scholars to its classes. Fun fact; John K. Fairbank, who became a Harvard professor, studied there.
Now, this is not universally accepted. It is a claim given by the current owner of the house, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing. Other historians believe that the California College building was in a different building.
Other theories suggest that the building was built by the Imperial Chinese Government before at least 1900. And it was a gift to the British government or the Catholic Church.
Historians suggest that by the late 1930s, the house became the property of a Catholic organization, probably the American Benedictine group. During World War II, it was used a clinic by a group of Belgian Augustinian nuns until 1946.
Three years later, following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, it was being ru by the Irish Presbyterian Mission.
Truth be told, until 1950, ownership and use records are little to unknown. After that, ownership and use records are available. The new Communist government took control of the house and used it in the 1950s and 1960s to house government departments and agencies.
By 1994, the property was finally transferred to the CPCA when the organization was able to prove the Catholic Church’s past use to the government’s satisfaction.
Fun fact: the heritage of the house prevented it from being torn down, but it also makes it difficult to renovate it due to the strict historic preservation rules that have to be followed.
And then came the turning point by which people from around the world found out about the house. IN 2011, Hong Kong filmmakers Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong began their three years process of The House that Never Dies. The horror movie is set at Chaonei No.81.
Yes, they ultimately used another house in Beijing and locations in Wuxi, but the cast visited the house. Yip actually reviewed 3,000 pages of data on the house in preparation for directing the movie.
Now let’s talk about the house itself. It is located along the north side of the street, some 820 feet west of the Second Ring Road intersection. It is located in the Chaoyangmen Subdistrict of Beijing’s Dongcheng District, near the boundary with the CHaoyang District.
The neighborhood itself is urban and densely developed. There is a concrete wall surrounding the property and a gate of opaque metal doors. This is what allows entrance from the street for visitors. There are actually three buildings on the parcel, which are the main house, the larger second house, and a garage.
The main house is the famous building, located east of the entrance. The main house is a two-and-a-half story structure of brick laid in Flemish bond with stone trim topped by a shingled mansard roof.
Stone water tables set off the basement and the second story. And then a third long the top of the windows on the latter marks the middle of the plain stone frieze. All corners in the house are quoined in stone, and metal drainpipes run down the façade on both sides of the pavilion.
Above the roofline, you can see three dormer windows piercing the mansard. They are brick with stone trim at the corners.
Rumors and Legends Surrounding the house
Here is a fun fact. Rumors and legends are fun and increase popularity of the house. But they have practical effects, making the property almost impossible to sell.
Contrary to a frequently cited legend, the house was never the property of a Kuomintang officer who left a woman, either his wife or mistress behind. That legend claims that the officer left the woman behind when he fled to Taiwan in 1949.
We said before that since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, records are more consistent. Before that, there were many rumors, legends, and controversies. As of the late 1990s, the building is owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing. One day, it might serve as the Vatican embassy. Here are some of conspiracy theories about the place.
In the 1970s, people thought the house was haunted. Beijing residents growing up in the area say that “as children, we would play hide-and-seek in the house, but didn’t dare come in by ourselves. Even the Red Guards who lived in the house during the Cultural Revolution got scared and left”.
There are some allegations of inexplicable disappearance connected to the house. The most famous one is about a British priest who allegedly built the property to be used as a church. Yet, he went missing before it was finished. There were investigators sent to look for him, but they discovered a secret tunnel in the crypt instead of the priest.
This incident is what led to the government to cancel its plans to demolish the building in the late 1990s. Other conspiracies believe that the diocese’s interest in the building prevented it from being demolished.
Some people claim that anyone who walks by experiences a feeling of unease or dread while they do it. During summers, it is always cooler in the mansion’s doorway than another shaded entryway of a modern house.
The popular and widely accepted claim is by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing. They claim the house was built in the early 20th century as a Chinese language school for foreign missionaries.
The other popular theory is that it was built in 1900 as a gift to the British government from Imperial China.
Experts in the US point to slavery and mass killing of first nation people across the region for ghost stories.