The city consists of buildings, structures, dioramas, and statues that are related to Diyu, the concept of the underworld and hell (or Naraka) in Chinese mythology and Buddhism. It is modeled to resemble Youdu, the capital of Diyu.
After the building of the Three Gorges Dam and the rising of the water level of the river it became separated from the city of Fengdu, which was rebuilt higher up the mountainside on the south side of the river.
According to legend, Fengdu got its name of Ghost city during the Eastern Han Dynasty when two imperial officials, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping, came to Ming mountain to practice Taoism and in the process became immortals.
The combination of their names, Yinwan, means “King of Hell” and that was the beginning of the site’s focus on the underworld. Many of the temples and shrines show paintings and sculptures of people being tortured for their sins.
According to Chinese beliefs, the dead must pass three tests before passing to the next life.
First they must pass the ‘Bridge of Helplessness’. This stone bridge was built during the Ming Dynasty and is a test for Good and Evil. It has three arches and only the middle one is used for testing people. There are different protocols for crossing the bridge depending on sex, age, marital status. At the bridge demons allow or forbid passage. The good are allowed to pass while the evil will be pushed to the water below.
This is now done as a tourist attraction and performers characterised as demons momentarily stop tourists on the bridge but finally allow them across.
Then the dead must proceed to Ghost-Torturing Pass where they present themselves for judgment before Yama, King of Hell. This is the second test. In this area there are large sculptures of demons.