Monday, 9 November 2009

The Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

You have probably heard of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Have you also heard about the less well-known Hungry Ghost Festival?

Just as the Americans have the Halloween, the Chinese have their version of a ghost festival too. This year, Year 2006, the festival of hungry ghost starts on the month of August of the Western Calendar.

Celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially in Singapore and Malaysia, the Hungry Ghost festival is a mixed Taoist/ folklore occasion that is taken very seriously by the Chinese. This festival falls on the 7th month of the Lunar New Year and is believed by the Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to free the hungry ghosts who will then wander the earth to seek food.

Filial Chinese families would celebrate this festival to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. At the same time, they also pray and pay tributes to other "unknown wandering ghosts" so that these homless souls will not intrude into their daily life and bring along misfortunes or bad luck to them or their family.

How is the festival celebrated?

One of the most popular belief among the Chinese is that the dead return to visit their living relatives during the 7th month and thus they prepare a sumptuous meal for these returning ‘hungry ghosts’. The Chinese feel that they have to ensure that their ancestors are "well fed and clothed" in order to be happy and to bless their decendents.

During the 7th month celebrations, the Chinese offer prayers to their deceased relatives, burn joss sticks, paper money and offer food. In Singapore and Malaysia, it is a common sight to see entertaining ‘ wayang’ or Chinese Opera and concerts performed on outdoor stages in some neighborhoods. These events are always held at night. There is a belief that this entertainment would please those wandering souls. These shows are very popular and often filled with audience but the front row seats are always left empty for... you guess it, the unseen ghosts!

Superstitious belief for the hungry ghost festival

Another interesting belief that the Chinese have about the festival is that it is bad to go swimming during the 7th month. They think that an evil ghost may cause you to drown in the swimming pool. In addition to this, children are also advised to return home early and not to wander around at night. This belief is due to the reason that the wandering ghosts might possess children. Thus, it is not surprising that swimming pools, beaches, shopping malls, cinemas, bowling alleys will report a dip in customers during this month. This is also a month considered not auspicious to get married, start a business, move house or even to travel. Plane, bus tickets and hotel rates tend to be at their lowest peak during this month!

Offerings to the Dead

The Chinese also give a lot of offerings to the deceased. These offerings are made by burning fake money notes, which are also known as ‘hell money’ and even paper television or radio sets. Some families also burn
paper houses & cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their world.

The Chinese regard the 15th of the month as an important date to give a feast to the ghosts. On this date, the family will cook a lot of food and offer them to the deceased. This is done to please the ghosts and also to gain good luck for the family. 15 days after the feast, the festival will be over, as the Chinese believe that the ghosts return back to where they come from.

That is, until the next Lunar 7th month....

Keen to read more about Chinese culture? The author, Ken Cheong, writes on Chinese culture and other interesting China-based information. Please visit and for more interesting information.

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