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Ghost Festival 鬼节

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The last couple of nights, just after dark, and again today a little earlier, I smelled something burning. A quick look out my window showed about a dozen people standing in a circle around a small fire carefully burning things. One would feed the fire, wait for the flames to die down, then someone else would then do the same. 

 

Asked a local friend, and it turns out it to be  鬼节, one of several annual Ghost Festivals. This one, to be more precise, is 中元节。I've noticed the same business in years past but had not marked the exact date. Seems it is 七月半, about halfway through the seventh lunar month.

 

People buy specially-printed paper money ("spirit money") and printed images of necessities as well as luxury goods to burn on behalf of deceased relatives to assure them of a more comfortable afterlife. Papier-mache ingots of gold and silver are sacrificed this way, as are "fake" automobiles and even fancy mobile phones. My local farmers market has several specialty stalls where such items are available. 

 

Families will usually prepare a special evening meal, leaving an empty place set for the deceased loved one. The whole ritual has to do with veneration of ancestors. I understand that similar customs are prevalent in other Asian countries as well as China. Apparently the practice is loosely based on Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. 

 

I live in an older section of Kunming. Have you noticed this where you live? Or some variation of it?    

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Shelley

I have lots of examples of the "spirit money" from the bank of hell or the bank of heaven. Some of them are physically quite big and have some lovely pictures of an old gent on them with a wonderful headdress. 

 

The denominations are also usually huge, 1 million or 10,000. It wasn't always this way, apparently inflation has caught up even with "Joss Money" denominations used to be 5 or 10 yuan pre 1944.

 

I did some research and found out the building depicted is a temple and the gent is the Jade Emperor.

 

More here if anyone is interested - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_money

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Enjune Zhang

People do the same in Guangdong province. You may search烧衣纸 online or wechat, and you may get info about that. Chinese people do so in Qingming Festival when they sweep the tomb, but recent years burning in mountain is banned to lower the risk of mountain fire. 

It is said that July 14/15 lunar calendar is the birthday of 地官, who will open the gate of hell and let the ghosts back to the world. And people burn something fake as an offering to the people passing away. 

It is 盂兰盆节 from the perspective of Buddhism. And people will set the water lantern along the riverside for the same reason.

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mungouk

Hungry Ghost festival is pretty big in the Chinese community in Singapore. 

There are specific places set up in local communities for burning the joss paper objects (which can range from bank notes to things like houses and ipads), usually something like an oil drum sitting on bricks or sometimes a slightly more fancy metal bin. 

 

3 hours ago, Enjune Zhang said:

July 14/15 lunar calendar

 

By which you presumably mean 14-15 of the seventh month?  Is it usual to "translate" this as "July"?  I find that somewhat confusing.  Surely 七月 is just that... it has nothing to do with the Gregorian calendar.

 

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Enjune Zhang

Actually, it will be logically confusing if I call 阴历七月 as July lunar calendar, since July is the product of solar calendar. So you may keep it as the seventh month of lunar calendar to make it less equivocal to non-native Chinese speakers.

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abcdefg
8 hours ago, mungouk said:

There are specific places set up in local communities for burning the joss paper objects (which can range from bank notes to things like houses and ipads), usually something like an oil drum sitting on bricks or sometimes a slightly more fancy metal bin. 

 

Sounds like it is better organized in Singapore. Why is that not surprising? Haha! 昆明有点乱,有点落后的城市。

 

@Enjune Zhang -- I sure do like Zhuhai. Spent a lot of good days there. Best seafood I've ever had. Plus friendly people from all over China. 

 

@Shelley -- 

 

Quote

"I have lots of examples of the "spirit money" from the bank of hell or the bank of heaven. Some of them are physically quite big and have some lovely pictures of an old gent on them with a wonderful headdress." 

 

Photos? Do you think he might be the Jade Emperor? 玉帝/玉皇大帝

 

u=4233923707,1306480273&fm=173&app=25&f=JPEG?w=493&h=541&s=BCF87E946931FADC1097C16D0300306A

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Enjune Zhang

@abcdefg  I am glad you like Zhuhai. Given that you are good at finding the beauty of the place you stay, I'm sure you will be a pretty good 代言人for everywhere you've been.

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abcdefg

Was at the neighborhood wet market this morning to buy vegetables and fruit. Stopped by one of the stalls which sells "Ghost Supplies." The lady who runs it is a relative of the man from whom I always buy eggs, Mr. Yang. 

 

I told her what I'd seen outside my window and asked her about the local observance. She said it runs for two or three more days here, although in other parts of China it's not exactly the same. She said the whole month was "special." I told her we didn't have the same custom 风俗习惯 in America and asked if she'd mind my taking just one photo. She said OK and smiled. 

 

Not sure whether or not it really mattered, but I didn't want to make a fuss and take a lot of photos. Didn't want to attract attention. Thought it might be something about which local people could conceivably be touchy. I didn't want to risk being thought of as the "Ugly Foreigner who makes fun of the backward locals." 

 

1377361544_IMG_20190814_094336(2)-950px.thumb.jpg.c615854e78d3979ebe7ed8685617d22c.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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mungouk

A former colleague of mine who specialises in "Visual Ethnography" (using photography) has written a number of papers on Hungry Ghost in Singapore over the years...

 

Here's one that might be of interest, with many pictures of the various set-ups, altars etc. as well as discussions of the origins of the Singapore variant. 

 

https://www.academia.edu/6934398/Hungry_ghosts_in_urban_spaces_A_visual_study_of_aesthetic_markers_and_material_anchoring

 

 

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abcdefg

How interesting, @mungouk -- I downloaded and read it. Great photos. Maybe tonight I can go downstairs after dark and wander around to see a little more, learn a little more. 

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Shelley
10 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Do you think he might be the Jade Emperor? 玉帝/玉皇大帝

 

He certainly looks like he could be.

The pictures of the Spirit money is fab, this is the sort of thing I have. I just think that is interesting that so much effort and care is taken with something that its ultimate purpose is to be burnt.

I will have a read of @mungouk's friend's article later when I have time, looks interesting.

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abcdefg
3 hours ago, Shelley said:

I just think that is interesting that so much effort and care is taken with something that its ultimate purpose is to be burnt.

 

Agree!

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