Hungry Ghost Festival
Like people all over the world, the Chinese have special customs regarding dead people and their ghosts that are thousands of years old. The popular folk religion called Daoism includes days for dealing with errant ghosts in the land. When they visit in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, special precautions and ceremonies are necessary. The Hungry Ghost Festival is the most important festival of Hungry Ghost month.
Hungry Ghost Festival Facts
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. This day falls in July or August in our Western calendar. In southern China, the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by some on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month. The people there are said to have begun celebrating the festival a day earlier during a time of long warfare to avoid being attacked by enemies during the inauspicious day.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of several traditional festivals in China to worship ancestors . Others include the Spring Festival , the Qingming Festival, and the Double Ninth Festival. In Jiangxi Province and Hunan Province, the Hungry Ghost Festival is considered to be more important than the Qingming Festiva l and the Double Ninth Festival . The Taoist name for the Hungry Ghost Festival is the Zhongyuan Festival (中元节), and Buddhists call it the Yulanpen Festival.
They perform special ceremonies to avoid the wrath of the ghosts such as putting the family's ancestral tablets on a table, burning incense, and preparing food three times that day. The main ceremony is usually held at dusk. People put the family's ancestral tablets and old paintings and photographs on a table and then burn incense near them. Plates of food are put out for the ghosts on the table, and the people may kowtow in front of the memorial tablets and report their behavior to their ancestors to receive a blessing or punishment. People also feast on this night, and they might leave a place open at the table for a lost ancestor.
They want to feed the hungry ghosts who have been wandering the land since the beginning of Hungry Ghost Month. It is thought that after two weeks of activity, they must be very hungry.
Hungry Ghost Month
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of several important festival days of Ghost Month (鬼月) - the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
It is thought that the ghosts of Chinese ancestors are let out of hell on the first day of the month. It has been the scariest month of the year for thousands of years. They roam around looking for peculiar entertainment, and many fearful Chinese try to avoid swimming or being alone at night lest an enemy ghost comes after them.
The ghosts attack their enemies, and they might be angry or malicious in general. So the Chinese have certain traditions about what to do about the situation on the first day, the 14th or 15th for the Hungry Ghost Festival, and the last day of the special month.
The First Day of Hungry Ghost Month
One the first day of the month, people burn make-believe paper money outside their homes or businesses, along the sides of roads, or in fields. Sometimes, they go to temples for this task. On a trip to China during this time, you'll probably see people occupied with this activity or find the ghost money on the ground with ashes and remains. They want to give the ghosts the money they need during their special month.
People also light incense and may make sacrifices of food to worship the hungry unhappy ghosts. People trust that the ghosts won't do something terrible to them or curse them after eating their sacrifices and while holding their money. They put up red painted paper lanterns everywhere including business and residential areas.
There are street ceremonies, market ceremonies, and temple ceremonies. During street and market ceremonies, people gather at the streets and markets to celebrate the festival. At temple ceremonies, monks in temples organize festive activities. Many believe it is important to appease the ghosts to avoid spiritual attack.
The Last Day of Hungry Ghost Month
The last day of the seventh lunar month is marked with a special festival too. This is the day that the gates of hell are closed up again. People celebrate and observe this day in various ways. Many burn more paper money and clothing so that the ghosts can use these things in their hell society. The pictures and tablets of ancestors may be put away back on the shelves or hung back on the walls where they were before.
In order to drive the ghosts away, Taoist monks chant to make them leave. The ghosts are thought to hate the sound, and therefore scream and wail.
Many families float river lanterns on little boats in the evening. People make colorful lanterns out of wood and paper, and families write their ancestors' name on the lanterns. The ghosts are believed to follow the floating river lanterns away.
History of the Hungry Ghost Festival
The origin of the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) in China is uncertain. Cultures in Asia from India to Cambodia to Japan share similar beliefs about the month, and these traditions seem to date from before Buddha. More ancient folk religions covered the entire area.
Some of the ancient folk religion is incorporated in Taoism, the indigenous religion of China. The gates of hell are opened on the first day of the seventh month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge on those who have behaved badly according to Taoist records. The Taoists chant together to free the ghosts.
Another story says King Yama (the king of hell) opens the gates of hell and allows a few wild ghosts to enjoy the sacrifices on the first day of the seventh lunar month. The gates are closed on the last day of that month, and the wild, hungry ghosts return to hell. Some Chinese think that the gates of heaven are also opened during this month, and they worship their ancestors from heaven too.
Comparison of the Hungry Ghost Festival to Western Halloween
The Hungry Ghost Festival comes at a time of year when the moon is full near the end of summer. In many ways, this festival is reminiscent of Halloween or the Night of the Dead in Western countries.
Cultures from Europe to China have traditional days of the dead or ghost days that are thousands of years old that were part of the tribal folk religions before the advent of Christianity in Europe and Buddhism in Asia. In Britain, Halloween originated from the traditional holiday of Celts in Great Britain who believed that the last day of October was "the day of the dead" or "the ghost day" when ghosts crossed over the boundary between the living and the dead. The Chinese belief is similar.
Chinese believe that on the days of Ghost Month and especially on the night of the full moon there is more of a bridge between the dead and the living , so they must take precautions or honor the dead. They perform ceremonies or traditions to protect themselves from attacks or pranks by the ghosts and to honor and worship their ancestors or famous people of the past. It is believed that the ghosts of dead people can help and protect them.
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A night at Hong Kong's Ghost Festival opera - in pictures
During the hungry ghost festival, members of hong kong's chiu chow community organise their own opera.
CHINA HONG KONG OPERA Chiu Chow opera musicians play during a performance. EPA
During the Hungry Ghost Festival, members of Hong Kong's Chiu Chow community put on an opera for ghosts in need of entertainment.
Around 1.2 million people from from Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) in China's Guangdong province live in Hong Kong. Their take on the Hungry Ghost Festival is the Yu Lan Ghost Festival.
While the festival's origins are not unlike those of Halloween in Europe, it is also intrinsically linked to the Chinese practice of ancestor worship.
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HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL
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I n Hong Kong, the Hungry Ghost Festival (盂蘭節) is a major Buddhist and Taoist event. Hungry ghosts are the restless spirits of people who did not have a funeral. There is no one visiting their graves and they do not receive the gifts that Chinese people would take to their ancestors to pay respects. They miss out on food and spirit money.
- WANDERING SPIRITS SHED
T he Wandering Spirits Shed is located next to the shrine of the King of Ghosts and is opposite of the Taoist priests shed.
T he month is still considered especially unlucky and many young people might avoid getting married, moving house, changing jobs or making large investments in stocks, cars or homes.
T radionally every household has to prepare meat, fruits, fresh flowers. They offer these to the hungry ghosts at the playground or on a temporary altar table set up in front of their homes.
A ppeasing the ghosts is done through preparing a sumptuous meal for the spirits. Food offering such as fruits (apple, banana, orange), roasted pork, rice, steamed chicken do happen. It brings peace for one year.
A fter a performance is over, the houses are pulled down and moved to a new site. All unbroken poles are reused.
- RECOMMENDATION SHED
N ext to the Wandering Spirits shed is the Recommendation shed.
S ome Hungry Ghosts festival processions do also happen. During this procession the gods are invited. It is also a reminder to the neighbourhood that the Hungry Ghost festival is coming. The performers from the opera dance and sing to please the deities.
T hese treasures are believed to have absorbed the prayers offered by the monks and thousands of devotees. People like to think that they contain magical powers that will grant the owners their wishes and desires.
O ne of the highlight is the auction of treasures of fortune. i.e. auspicious items which have been placed in the gods shed throughout the celebration.
- CHINESE OPERA THEATER
T he opera shed is located opposite of the Gods shed. Chinese opera is performed here for the gods. The show can gain merits for the ancestors. The show is also a key entertainment for the neighbourhood.
T he big temporary open-air bamboo complexe is one of the main building during the Hungry Ghost festival. It is used to host a Chiu Chow Chinese opera. Chiu Chow people are also spelled Chaozhou or Teochew people.
I t usually takes 10 workers about a week to build four small houses needed for the Yulan festival.
T raditional Chinese operas are held to entertain and distract the spirits from their pursuit of chaos. Front seats at these operas remained empty as they were believed to be occupied by ghostly guests. Nowadays, believers politely inquiring whether the seats are taken. At least it is customary to leave the first row of seats empty for the hungry ghosts.
C hinese opera do happen when the community scale is big enough. When the community scale is small such as only one block, they might just organize Taoist traditions during the Hungry Ghost festival. Organizing a Chinese opera requires fund raising efforts.
- OPERA PERFORMANCE
N owadays most of the audiences cannot follow the story lines. So some LCD panels display text in Traditional Chinese characters.
S ome Chinese people may observe restrictions during this month. For instance, some believe it is not advisable to wander out of the house at night for fear of encountering ghosts and no organisation of happy occasions such as weddings.
Y ue Lan festival such as in Kai Tak East Playground - Choi Hung is a lively traditional event. Many people there are watching Chinese opera and making offerings. Certainly because it is close to Rhythm Garden huge estate.
T here are no more Cantonese operas in urban areas but performances are still happening during traditional festivals such as deity birthday.
P erformers from mainland China are always friendly and allow to come in the backstage to take pictures. They appreciate photographers who give them some pictures.
C hinese opera troupes come from mainland China. They often come either from Shantou area or Fujian province.
M en and women change clothes together. There is no privacy. Anyway they always keep some white clothes beneath so decency remains.
C hinese opera performers receive their salary on daily basis.
W hite makeup seems Ok with little impact on the skin despite daily usage according to the performers.
V arious troupes require various salary. For Yulan committees having limited budget, they may hire Chinese opera troupe performing in villages. Their skills might be less good. Costumes and decoration might be a bit old or not so clean. Some troupes have been properly trained in Guangzhou. Some others learn through karaoke. Some troupes even sell their VCDs.
M en sleep in the backstage to take care of the belongings. Depending on the troupe budget or arrangement, women and some older team members take a bus and often sleep in some buildings located in New Territories.
A fter a Chinese opera performance is over, it is time for removing make up, time for shower, tea and night diner such as congee.
C hinese opera troupes are coming from mainland China because the younger generation growing up in Hong Kong cannot speak fluent Teochew (<5%), not even to mention joining opera groups, a hard and low-paying job. Similarly, Hakka and Wai-Tau languages/dialects are also disappearing in the New Territories (Thanks Anthony).
P erformers of Chiu Chow opera help each other and can perform many tasks such as singing, acting, playing some instrument, changing decoration.
I t is so hot in the backstage. It looks like a sauna during summer time! While taking pictures, it is better to use some long lens to avoid disturbing the performers in their make up preparation as the backstages are never that big.
T roupe owners and performers are normally always friendly. They sometimes share some food and tea. It is always welcome to send digital pictures to them through WeChat application or print copies.
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Hungry Ghost Festival History and Folklore
This article is part of our Hungry Ghost Festival Family Guide . Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a time when restless ghosts rise, when makeshift roadside altars glow with burning joss paper and when the living do everything they can to appease the wandering spirits. It’s one of the two big annual festivals designated specifically for the dead — the other is the Qingming Festival in the spring.
The Story of Ghost Month
Ghost Month lasts the duration of the 7th month on the lunar calendar. The Chinese believe that the gates to the underworld are opened on the 1st day of the month, releasing the captive ghosts to roam the earth among the living until the gates are closed again on the last day of the month. In contrast to the Qingming Festival , which honors family ghosts and ancestors, the Hungry Ghost Festival is intended to pacify the restless ghosts of strangers and uncared-for dead. That is, spirits who did not receive a proper burial or those who died through murder or suicide. During the duration of Ghost Month, the spirits seek out worldly pleasure and even revenge against those who did them harm while they were alive. To pacify these hungry ghosts, the living observe superstitions and make offerings of food, money and entertainment all month long, culminating with an outdoor ghost-feeding ceremony on the night of the Hungry Ghost Festival. It’s believed that content ghosts won’t cause trouble, especially for those among the living who faithfully serve them.
The Story of Mu Lian
Though much of the Hungry Ghost Festival’s origin myth is lost to time, many attribute the holiday’s focus on the destitute and less fortunate to the influence of Buddhism. Specifically, there’s a story about Mu Lian, a monk who rescued his mother from hell. Horrified to find his mother committed to the fiery depths of the underworld, Mu Lian appeals to Buddha for help. He’s told in response that only the power of joy harnessed through the collective effort of mass prayer could save her. When the ritual is performed by the Buddha and his disciples on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, Mu Lian’s mother is released. Many point to this story as the reason why the Hungry Ghost Festival focuses so much on easing the suffering of the wandering ghosts, as well as exonerating their spirits.
When is the Hungry Ghost Festival?
The Hungry Ghost Festival takes place every year on the evening of the 15th day of Ghost Month, the 7th month on the lunar calendar. There is no time off granted for the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Hungry Ghost Festival Dates Through 2026 are below.
Your turn! Do you have any other questions about Hungry Ghost Festival history and folklore? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
HT: Photo by the photojournale .
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Is it all right to afterward eat the food we offered or give it to the poor and hungry? If not, what do we do with the food?
Thanks for your question, Tony. Traditionally, the offering is left outside overnight before it’s generally cleared away, either by municipal services or the family. That said, you’ve got spirit of the holiday right, in the sense of looking after those less fortunate. Giving non-perishable goods to a homeless shelter might be your family’s modern adaptation. ~Wes
Hello, I’m currently engineering a fall festival with my students. One of the cultures and settings of the event is the “Hungry Ghost Festival.” Could you possibly share your thoughts as to the must haves a person would find in my little Chinese village if the “Hungry Ghost Festival” were taking place. I’m looking for attributes which will provide a more sound cultural experience. Thank you.
Hi Gary, sounds like fun! You’ll find more detail in the site’s Hungry Ghost Festival pages, but at a high level, I’d suggest emphasizing the theme of looking after the destitute and those less fortunate, specifically in this case the ghosts without families to look after them. Taking care to avoid cultural caricature, an interesting display might incorporate elements of a traditional ghost-feeding ceremony , such as paper and food offerings meant to appease the passing ghosts. In summary, focus on the holiday’s universal, accessible themes, supported by explanations of the specific cultural practices. Hope that helps! ~Wes
Thank you. I had incorporated the Chinese lantern festival a few years back which was a huge success and am looking forward to this event as well.
Excellent! If there’s an easy opportunity, I’d love to see a picture when the event is past. ~Wes
Wei Guan Shang
There is so much similarity in the diverse cultural traditions honoring the dead. There are the bright and cheerful aspects and then there are the dark and fearful ones as stark contrast and so many variations in between. I would like to add that our remembrance of the dead can be on a daily basis via sincere prayers offered and in good deeds done on behalf of the deceased. What we do and what we fail to do in this life have a great impact on all our own lives here and on our afterlife…so vigilance, or the lack of, to our true and noble heritage not only impacts upon advancing the betterment of our world and all in it, our pure, kindly, goodly deeds and seemly conduct affects those in the next world as well. Wei
Thank you for sharing your reflection and daily practice, Wei. Very much agree. ~Wes
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Hungry Ghost Festival (History, Legends, Activities, and Things to Avoid )
- 28 August 2023
Many Chinese festivals and traditions are emphasizing ancestral veneration.
The Chinese, as well as other Eastern cultures like Japanese and Koreans really venerated those who passed before. For them, death is just a transformation, as the spirit of the dead keeps living in another world. Meaning the Chinese believe that their ancestors are still watching them, and in fact, many believed that the ancestors can protect their children and even bestow them with good luck.
With that being said, the Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the Chinese major festivals that is focused on venerating the ancestors, just like other festivals like the famous Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival) and the Double Ninth Festival.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is also known as the Zhongyuan Festival ( 中元節), and is celebrated every 15th day of the 7th month. As with any other Chinese Festivals, this festival is celebrated based on the Chinese Lunisolar calendar rather than our standard Gregorian calendar. So, the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated at different times every year, although always around July and August.
The Festival celebrated a day when the gate of the underworld is opened, releasing the spirits to the world of the living. On this day, it is also believed that the spirits of the ancestors will visit their living families to feast together.
In this post, we will learn all you need to know about the Hungry Ghost Festival, but let us begin by discussing the history behind it.
Origin and History of Hungry Ghost Festival
The concepts of afterlife, underworld, and spirits have been embedded strongly in the history of ancient China, especially after Buddhism was introduced to China around 200-220 BCE.
According to Chinese Buddhism, on the 15th day of the 7th Lunar Month, the goddess Guan Yin opened the gate of the underworld so all the spirits can enter the world of the living. These “hungry” spirits then wander the world to look for food and entertainment.
History recorded that the ancient Chinese has venerated their ancestors since the Warring States period. Early on, only the Emperor and rich nobles can afford to do so, but along with time, honoring the ancestors is a must-do tradition for everyone, the rich and the poor, the noblemen and commoners.
However, it was only during the Eastern Han dynasty period that the actual concept of the Hungry Ghost Festival was solidified, becoming a country-wide tradition, although it’s still not considered a major festival yet.
The Tang Dynasty period (618 to 907 AD) further established the Hungry Ghost Festival as one of the most important festivals in China. During this period, the Emperor of Tang declared that the festival as a mandatory festival that should be celebrated each year, which lasts until today.
Legends and Folktales Behind the Hungry Ghost Festival
As with other festivals in China, the Hungry Ghost Festival celebration is based on legends and folktales. There are many versions of folktales telling the origin of the Hungry Ghost Festival, but the most widely known one is about a child named Mulian.
According to this popular Chinese Buddhist tale recorded in a Dunhuang Manuscript as old as the 9th century AD, Mulian was an orphan that gained the power to travel to heaven. He used the power to seek his parents in heaven.
Mulian successfully found his father in heaven, and they were both very happy with the reunion. However, Mulian also learned that his mother was actually not in heaven, but in hell. His mother was punished because, during her life, she stole money that should have otherwise be given to the wandering monks.
Mulian was really saddened about this fact and really wanted to rescue her mother from hell. Looking for a solution, Mulian asked for wisdom from the Buddha on how to rescue his mother. The Buddha instructed Mulian to prepare food offerings and gifts to monks and monasteries on the 15th day of the 7th month, to “pay” for her mother’s sins and ask for forgiveness.
Due to Mulian’s devotion, his mother was freed from hell and can join his father in heaven.
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Activities and Traditions During the Hungry Ghost Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival can be considered as a unique one amongst the other Chinese festivals, especially because it deals with superstition regarding ghosts and spirits.
Many of the traditions and activities performed at the Hungry Ghost Festival are performed to ward off misfortune and bad luck caused by evil spirits, and so many of these activities are intended to avoid disturbing and disrespecting the spirits that are freed during the festival.
Here are some of the core activities performed during the Hungry Ghost Festival
Offering Food and Gifts
One of the most important traditions performed during this festival is to prepare food offering to appease the hungry spirits, hence the name of the festival. People can either prepare a table of offerings or simply place the food and gifts anywhere (i.e. on the streets).
Visiting The Temples
The Buddhist temples and pavilions are one of the main places where people can leave their food offerings but during the Hungry Ghost Festival, people also often visit the temple to burn incense paper offerings shaped as money, houses, cars, and so on. According to traditions, the spirits can bring back the burned money and gifts when they return to the underworld.
Setting Up Incense
Incense offerings are a very important element of the Hungry Ghost Festival. Incense symbolizes the respect given to the ancestral spirits who returned to the world of the living during the festival. Also, putting incense in front of stores or businesses during the festival is believed to attract wealth and good luck to the business.
Lighting Up Lanterns and Candles
During the festival people often light up candles and lanterns to attract the spirits of their ancestors. These lanterns and candles act as direction markers so the spirits can find their way to their families’ houses.
Getae is a type of Chinese opera which is specially designed to entertain visiting spirits and ghosts. During a Getae show, the front seats are emptied with burned incense placed on them. This show is performed to venerate the dead spirits, and also to entertain them before they return to the underworld.
Things to Avoid During Hungry Ghost Festival
Due to the unique nature of the festival that is basically about superstitions, there are also taboos that should be observed during the festival celebration.
If you happen to visit China or other countries that celebrate the festival during the time of the Hungry Ghost Festival, it’s best to know what things you shouldn’t do throughout the festival celebration:
- Don’t step on roadside offerings
As mentioned above, people often leave their food and gifts offerings on the streets during the time of the festival. If you accidentally step (or kick) on these offerings, you should ask for forgiveness immediately. It is believed that if the spirits despised your attitude, then you’ll be followed by them, which often leads to bad luck.
- Color taboos
Avoid wearing anything colored red or black during the time of the festival. Traditions dictated that the spirits are often attracted by red or black color. If you don’t want to be disturbed or possessed by these hungry spirits, it’s best to avoid these two colors.
- Don’t come home late
It’s best to avoid wandering around at night during the time of this festival. Also, avoid taking pictures at night.
Hungry Ghost Festival in Other Cultures
Japan: obon festival.
In Japan, there’s a festival that is really similar to the Hungry Ghost Festival, called Obon Festival. However, there are also some differences in how the festival is celebrated.
While in celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival people are encouraged to follow curfew and avoid the evil spirits, the Obon Festival is celebrated in a different approach where people are instead encouraged to spend time with the spirits around them.
There are also some similarities between the two festivals, like lighting up candles and lanterns to provide directions to the ancestral spirits. However, there are some activities that are unique to the Obon festival, like Bon Odori , a type of traditional dance accompanied by Taiko drums, designed to entertain the spirits.
Indonesia: Sembahyang Rebutan
The Sembahyang Rebutan (literally translated to “praying and grabbing”) Festival celebrated in some areas in Indonesia is quite similar to the Hungry Spirit Festival. It is celebrated during the time when the gate of the underworld is believed to be opened so the spirits can return to their living family’s houses. The people would also offer food and gifts (fruits, rice, cakes) for their ancestors, and typically they’ll prepare empty seats at their houses for the ancestors along with the ancestors’ friends in the underworld.
Also, during this time many temples and organizations will also offer food for the poor (rice, meat, fruits, snacks, etc.), and the poor people will often try to grab the food and gifts as fast as possible (hence the name “ rebutan ” or “to grab” of the festival).
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What (and When) is the Hungry Ghost Festival in China?
Sherrie Johnson, BA in Liberal Studies
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The Hungry Ghost Festival in China involves a month-long tradition of honoring the dead, called the Hungry Ghost Month. Though relatives and friends celebrate the deceased all month long, several days during the month have become more important than others.
Jump ahead to these sections:
What is the hungry ghost festival in china , what’s the history behind the hungry ghost festival , when does the hungry ghost festival take place each year , popular hungry ghost festival traditions, traditional food for the hungry ghost festival, how to celebrate the hungry ghost festival in china: etiquette and tips.
Whether you take a trip to China or visit the streets of a local China town during this month, you'll see the entire population (young and old) celebrate this phantom-oriented festival.
The Chinese believe that the gates of hell (and possibly heaven) open during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. During this time, the spirits of the dead wander the earth looking for pleasure, entertainment, and revenge against their enemies. The Chinese believe that these ghosts will create mischief of their own if they can’t find any available entertainment.
It's different from the Qingming Festival, where celebrants honor the ghosts of deceased ancestors and remember family members . The Hungry Ghost Festival involves the spirits of people that didn’t receive a proper Chinese funeral or died due to murder or suicide. The festival occurs in the middle of the month. The goal is to ward off evil intentions from hungry spirits that have been wandering the earth.
What does it celebrate?
Commemorating death in different cultures differs widely from country to country. In China, numerous festivals celebrate the spirits of honored ancestors and family members. The Hungry Ghost Festival looks after the deceased that no one remembers or cares for.
On the first day of the month and throughout the month, families burn fake money so the spirits have money to spend while wandering the earth. By the middle of the month, the Chinese believe that the hungry ghosts have run out of money. On the 15th day of Ghost Month, the Hungry Ghost Festival occurs.
The festival entertains the spirits and provides them with food, money, and even supplies like clothing. Along with entertainment, the festival wards off the evil intentions of any disgruntled spirits by appeasing them with gifts.
Where is it celebrated?
You’ll find the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated in several East Asian countries, including:
Thanks to the ease of international travel, you’ll also see this celebration pop up in China towns and in other areas with a high concentration of Buddhist and Taoist believers.
Who typically celebrates it?
Those who follow the Buddhist, Taoist, and Chinese folk religions typically celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Nobody knows the exact origins of the Hungry Ghost Festival and Hungry Ghost Month. Origin stories tend to vary among Buddhists and Taoists.
One story from the early days of Buddhism may have significantly influenced the Hungry Ghost Festival:
Long ago, a monk named Mu Lin found out that his mother, who had died, was condemned to the underworld where she could neither eat nor drink. Mu Lin couldn't bear to see his mother hungry or tortured, so he made her a bowl of rice. However, the grains of rice turned into flaming coals and she couldn’t take a bite. She was condemned to wander as a hungry ghost!
Horrified, Mu Lin appealed directly to Buddha. Buddha told Mu Lin that only the collective prayers of Buddhists could release his mother from her fate. The next day, on the 15th, Buddha and his disciples prayed for Mu Lin’s mother. She was released as a hungry, wandering ghost.
The Hungry Ghost Festival occurs on the 15th day of the 7th Chinese lunar month. That means the festival typically falls somewhere in August or September on the Western calendar.
Wondering when the Hungry Ghost Festival will take place? Learn the dates for the next several years:
2021: August 22 2022: August 12 2023: August 30 2024: August 18 2025: September 6 2026: August 27 2027: August 16
You can take advantage of a number of interesting festivities and traditions during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Choose a few or do them all when participating with family members or friends.
Burn fake money and incense
People believe that ghosts require money and other goods once they leave. Most people like to offer fake money made from jos paper.
I n China, you might see temporary structures set up to burn piles of jos paper for the community. You’ll also see people burning piles of “money” in front of houses, on sidewalks, in fields, and in other areas where people believe ghosts will pass.
Burn other provisions
Burning paper replicas of clothing, electronics, and other items can also ease the hungry ghosts' journey. Shops often specialize in selling all types of paper goods during Hungry Ghost Month for this purpose.
Present food offerings
People often leave food offerings on a plate outside their doors or in areas with other offerings, such as pieces of fruit, rice, tea, and sweets.
Prepare a Hungry Ghost Festival feast
On the night of the Hungry Ghost Festival, people believe that the connection between the living and dead is the closest. On this night, you can prepare a huge feast for your family and the ghost ancestors of your family. Prepare a full spread of your family’s favorite dishes and leave a few seats for your family’s ghosts and the spirits of household gods to show up.
After your family feast, you offer the feast to passing spirits. You set up a makeshift altar on the curb in front of your home and arrange plates of food from your feast for spirits. You can also burn more money or paper goods that they can take with them as they pass by your home.
Attend a Chinese opera or theatrical event
Entertainment and community celebrations are common throughout China during the month and especially around the 15th. Plan to attend one of these events which often feature opera and theatric performances. Just make sure to leave the front row of seats open! The empty seats are for the guests you can’t see.
Make a floating lantern
In Chinese belief, a floating lantern is placed on a river. This guides spirits away from your home and back to the underworld. Place a floating lantern on any body of water and watch as it floats away.
Avoid hungry ghosts (at all costs)
The Hungry Ghost Festival and Hungry Ghost Month is chock full of superstitions and traditions to avoid angry and upset ghosts:
- Don’t go out after dark unless making an offering (the night is for ghosts, not for people).
- Don’t leave the door to your house open (ghosts might come in uninvited).
- Don’t go swimming (a ghost might drown you).
- Don’t ever disturb roadside offerings (ghosts will get angry at you if you do).
- Don’t sing or whistle (ghosts might whistle back).
Follow these commonly recommended tips and you should make it through Hungry Ghost Month without encountering any otherworldly specters!
It’s only natural that the Hungry Ghost Festival would feature food! All throughout the month, the ghosts receive plenty of food from families for their ancestral ghosts and for those wandering ghosts they hope to appease. Take a look at the traditional foods you’ll most frequently see offered.
Plates of fruit
You'll often see fruit such as bananas, oranges, and other types of small fruit on makeshift altars throughout the month and during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Bowls of rice
People assume that hungry ghosts would want the foods they enjoyed while living. They place bowls of rice on altars along with fruit and the items listed below to form a food offering.
Piles of sweets
Sweets, such as small desserts, candies, and confectionaries, often join the fruit and rice offerings. Candies and other sweet items join the daily offerings of food to please hungry spirits as they pass by.
Cups of tea
Tea is also a staple in many Asian cultures and is certainly a predominant drink in China. Ghosts are bound to be hungry and thirsty. Food takes care of their hunger and tea takes care of their thirst.
Families will offer sumptuous items such as cuts of meat, noodle dishes, rice dishes, desserts, fruit, and tea on makeshift altars during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Whether you’ve celebrated this tradition with your family for years or you’re an interested Westerner celebrating with friends, take a look at a quick list of dos and don’ts.
Do take cues from those you’re with. If you’ve never celebrated before, keep an open mind and follow your friends’ lead.
Do stay inside after dark. The spirits take over at night, so those who adhere to the traditions will stay inside.
Do participate as much as you can. Ask questions if you’re unsure of something and learn as you go.
Don’t sit in empty rows. Invisible attendees get front-row seats in theaters and events.
Don’t mess with altars and offerings. Not only should you not disturb offerings left out for hungry spirits (you might get a curse placed on you!), but it’s not respectful or polite.
Don’t talk about ghosts. During Hungry Ghost Festival, ghosts become a little like the elephant in the room. Everyone accepts that they’re around, but no one speaks about them directly.
Honoring Ancestors and Ghosts Unknown
The Hungry Ghost Festival honors ancient ancestors and the spirits of people unknown and unloved. Use this special time to gather with family and celebrate what matters most — caring for others.
- Radez, Wes. “Hungry Ghost Festival Traditions.” Hungry Ghost Festival Family Guide, Chinese American Family, 10 May 2020. chineseamericanfamily.com .
- Radez, Wes. “Hungry Ghost History and Folklore.” Hungry Ghost Festival Family Guide, Chinese American Family, 10 May 2020. chineseamericanfamily.com .
- Sim, Cheryl. “Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival). Heritage and Culture, Singapore Infopedia, September 2020. eresources.nlb.gov.sg .
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Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese Festival held to appease the spirits of deceased relatives who wander freely on Earth during the seventh lunar month.
The Festival is carried out at various places around Singapore , mainly in the neighbourhoods housing Chinese residents.
Hungry Ghost Festival Singapore, Chinese Holiday Dates for 2024
Chinese families will also cook elaborate meals and leave empty seats at their table for the deceased members of their family. Food is also often left out for the hungry ghosts who allegedly roam the streets.
For those visiting Singapore during this festival, you will be able to witness this cultural event and the many festivities that have been planned. Large tents are set up in Singapore , which hosts dinners, Chinese Opera, stand-up comedy, and musical performances.
Some of the superstitions to adhere to during the Hungry Ghost Festival:
- No swimming. It is said that the drowned evil ghost might try to drown you to find victims for them to rebirth.
- As the month is considered inauspicious, don’t move to new houses, start new businesses or marry.
- Don’t hang clothes outside at night.
- Do not pick up coins or money found on the street; never bring it home.
- Do not wear red because ghosts are attracted to red.
- Don’t sing and whistle, as these may attract ghosts.
Head down to Chinatown to get in the spirit of the festival.
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Where to see Chinese opera in Chinatown?
Having done a few searches, all sources seem to point at the Chinese Theatre Circle.
It seems like there was a large festival last month in August, but it would be worth looking to see if they have any upcoming performance.
Their website is http://www.ctcopera.com/ and their Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/CantoneseOpera .
Frequently Asked Questions About Hungry Ghost Festival
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What Is Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival?-Zhong Yuan Jie
There are several traditional Chinese festivals that are characterized by diverse styles and themes which reflect Chinese practices along with the history of China and its people. Each festival has its own unique origin and customs, and they play an important role in defining China’s history and culture. Along with that, there is a very close relationship between the Chinese Traditional Festivals , the Chinese calendar, and the 24 solar terms . One of the most popular festivals is the Ghost festival, which is the most important festival of hungry ghost month. Read on to learn more about its history, origin, and how it is celebrated.
What is Hungry Ghost Festival?
The Hungry Ghost Festival is considered one of the most important festivals of Ghost Month, which is the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar . It is commemorated on the fifteenth day of Ghost month, and this day often falls in either July or August. In some parts of China especially Southern China , the Hungry Ghost Festival is observed on the 14th day of Ghost Month. It is believed that the people in Southern China started celebrating the Ghost festival a day earlier during warfare to avoid attacks by their enemies on an unlucky day. That said, the Ghost Festival just like other special festivals such as the Double Ninth Festival , the Qingming Festival , and the Spring Festival , is simply celebrated to worship the ancestors.
The Chinese believe that the ghosts of their ancestors are let out of hell when Ghost month begins and the ghosts are more prevalent and aggressive during the Hungry Ghost Festival. For thousands of years, Ghost month has been considered the scariest month of the year and during this time the Chinese try as much as possible to avoid any implicative situations. For example, the Chinese avoid swimming for fear of drowning and they try to avoid being alone at night because they believe that this is when enemy ghosts can come after them. Also, the Chinese believe that these ghosts are very angry and malicious and are on the hunt for their enemies. For this reason, the Chinese came up with unique traditions about how to control the ghost situation on the first day when they are let out of hell, on the Hungry Ghost Festival day, and on the last day of Ghost month when the ghosts return to their home.
why Chinese celebrate hungry ghost festival ?
The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as the Zhongyuan Festival or the Ghost Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It is believed that during this time, the gates of the underworld are opened, and the spirits of the dead are allowed to return to the human world to seek food and offerings from the living.
The origins of the festival can be traced back to the ancient Chinese belief in the afterlife and the importance of ancestral worship. The festival is based on the belief that the dead need to be appeased and provided for in order to ensure good fortune and avoid misfortune for the living.
During the festival, people make offerings of food, incense , and paper money to the spirits of their ancestors and to other wandering spirits that may be seeking offerings. It is believed that these offerings will help to appease the hungry ghosts and prevent them from causing harm to the living.
The festival is also marked by various rituals and ceremonies, including the burning of incense and the lighting of lanterns. Many people also attend performances of traditional Chinese opera or other forms of entertainment, which are believed to please the spirits and bring good luck.
While the festival is primarily focused on ancestral worship and the appeasement of wandering spirits, it is also seen as a time for reflection and introspection. Many people use the festival as an opportunity to contemplate their own mortality and to reflect on the importance of family and community.
When does Hungry Ghost Festival end?
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese honor the memories of the deceased every year, for a month. The Ghost month lands on the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and the ghosts are let out immediately after the month begins. The Ghost Festival, which is celebrated on the 14th day of Ghost month in Southern China and on the 15th day of Ghost month in other parts of China, then lasts for 14 days until the ghosts return to their homes, and a new month is ushered in.
Chinese ghost festival meaning
The Zhongyuan Festival, known as the “Ghost Festival” or “Seventh Month Festival” in Taoism , is an important traditional holiday in Chinese culture. It originates from ancient ancestral worship and related rituals, where people express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors through various ceremonial activities.
The customs of the Zhongyuan Festival vary due to regional and cultural differences, but they all reflect people’s reverence and remembrance for their ancestors. Ancestor worship is one of the most significant customs of the Zhongyuan Festival. People offer new rice, paper money, and other items to their ancestors, reporting the success of the autumn harvest and expressing gratitude for their blessings. Additionally, releasing river lanterns, performing ceremonies for deceased spirits, burning spirit money, and honoring the Earth deity are also traditional practices during the Zhongyuan Festival.
In Buddhism , the Zhongyuan Festival is known as the “Ullambana Festival,” considered a cultural tradition to honor ancestors. Taoism also views the Zhongyuan Festival as an important holiday, commemorating the founder of Taoism, Laozi .
The Zhongyuan Festival holds a significant place in the traditional culture of the Chinese nation and is one of the major occasions for ancestral worship. In May 2010, the “Zhongyuan Festival (Chaozhou Yulan Festival)” declared by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was included in the national intangible cultural heritage list, underscoring the festival’s importance in cultural preservation.
Chinese ghost festival Origin
The Zhongyuan Festival, known as the “Ghost Festival” or “Seventh Month Festival” in Taoism, is an important traditional holiday in Chinese culture. It originates from ancient ancestral worship and related rituals, where people express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors through various ceremonial activities.
In the “Yijing” (Book of Changes), the number “ seven ” is a symbol of change and rebirth. It is associated with the concept of cycles and regeneration. The “Yijing” states: “Repeatedly returning to its path, within seven days it returns. This is the movement of heaven.” The number seven is related to the sun, representing the time it takes for the sun’s energy to be renewed after it has diminished. It signifies the cyclic nature of yin and yang , the balance between opposing forces.
In Taoism, the Zhongyuan Festival is considered a commemoration of the founder of Taoism, Laozi. It is also known as the “Day of the Middle of the Year” or “Zhongyuan Jie.” In Buddhism, the festival is known as the “Ullambana Festival,” focused on the salvation of wandering spirits. Both Taoist and Buddhist elements have influenced the festival’s traditions and meanings.
The festival’s customs have evolved over time, blending elements from folk beliefs, Taoism, and Buddhism. It’s important to note that the association of the “Ghost Festival” with the seventh lunar month, or “Seventh Month Festival,” is a result of the fusion of these cultural influences. The festival encompasses practices of ancestor veneration, offering respect to deceased spirits, and seeking blessings and protection from the spiritual realm . The intricate interplay between Taoism, Buddhism, and local traditions has contributed to the multifaceted nature of the Zhongyuan Festival.
Hungry ghost festival History and Origin
As a Taoist festival that was greatly valued in the Tang dynasty and popularly known as the Zhongyuan Festival , the Chinese at the time believed that the gates of hell were opened on the first day of Ghost month. The hungry ghosts are then released to take revenge on anyone who has behaved badly throughout the year and has been blacklisted on the Taoist records. The hungry ghosts would also be searching for food, and drinks and needed to make merry. During this time, the Taoists had to chant together to free the ghosts.
As a Buddhist festival, the Ghost Festival draws its origin story from the Mahayana scripture known as the Yulanpen. According to this scripture, Maudgalyayana (one of the disciples that accompany the Buddha) used his powers to search for his parents and he found out that his deceased mother had been sent to the realm of hungry ghosts. In an attempt to help his mother who was in a deprived state, Maudgalyayana tried to feed his mother a rice bowl but she couldn’t eat it as it turned into burning coal. He then asked the Buddha to help him out. Upon his request, Buddha explained to him that he could only assist his parents by willingly offering them food on the 15th day of the 7th month when the hungry ghosts come out. Since then, the festival has been observed in China with respect to the deceased.
hungry ghost festival story
The Hungry Ghost Festival is an important event in Chinese culture, and its origins can be traced back to a number of different stories and legends. Here is one story that is often told about the festival:
The story begins with a man named Mulian, who was a disciple of the Buddha. One day, Mulian decided to use his powers to look into the underworld, where he saw his own mother suffering in the realm of hungry ghosts. Mulian was filled with grief and despair, and he begged the Buddha to help his mother.
The Buddha told Mulian that the spirits of the dead are only able to eat offerings that are made by the living. He instructed Mulian to make offerings to the spirits on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which is when the spirits are believed to be most active. Mulian followed the Buddha’s instructions and made offerings to the spirits, including food, incense, and paper money.
To his great relief, Mulian was able to see his mother again, and he offered her the food and other offerings he had prepared. However, Mulian’s mother was unable to eat the food, as her ghostly body was too insubstantial. Mulian was heartbroken, but the Buddha came to him again and told him that he could help his mother by performing good deeds and making offerings on her behalf.
Inspired by the Buddha’s words, Mulian set out to do good deeds and make offerings to the spirits of the dead. He also began to spread the word about the importance of making offerings to the spirits, and over time, this tradition became known as the Ghost Festival.
Hungry Ghost Festival Food
The Chinese believe that the hungry ghosts released from hell during Ghost month are often in search of merriment, food, and other worldly pleasures. For this reason, food is at the center of the festivities during the 15th day of Ghost Month.
During the festival, you may find about three sets of chopsticks , three bowls of rice, and three bowls of Chinese tea on Ghost Festival altars. The number 3 is very symbolic during this time as it represents the underworld, the realm of heaven and earth. Besides that, other essential food offerings during this time are large plates of raw noodles , uncut meats ( fish , pork, chicken , or beef), rice wine , candy , and fruits such as pineapples, Chinese lettuce, and peanuts , among others.
How is the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated?
During the Hungry Ghost Festival, there are several temple ceremonies where the monks organize various festive activities. There are also street and market ceremonies where people gather around to celebrate. All activities carried out on this day are designed to appease the ghosts and avoid their wrath and spiritual attacks.
The main ceremony is held at dusk and during this time; people take time to put out plates of food on the table and sometimes leave a place open at the table for any lost ancestors. Also, the Chinese prepare food 3 times on that day and put the family’s ancestral tablets, photographs, and old paintings on the table then burn incense right next to them. In addition to that, there are three other important activities carried out to celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival. These are;
Floating River Lanterns
To celebrate the Hungry Ghost festival, the Chinese people put a light or a candle on a lamp stand and float it on rivers on the night of the 14th/15th day of the 7th month. They make colorful river lanterns out of paper and wood and then write their ancestors’ names on the lanterns . These river lanterns are also known as lotus lanterns and they believe that doing this helps the ghosts of their loved ones reincarnate. They also believe that the ghosts of those who were wrongly accused can follow the floating river lanterns away and reincarnate instead of suffering too much in hell.
Burning paper ‘money’
On the first day of the Ghost month, the Chinese burn paper money outside their businesses or homes, in the fields, or along the sides of the road. Sometimes, they even go to the temple, so that they can burn make-believe paper money on the Hungry Ghost Festival altars. Generally, the Chinese believe that paper money actively enables their deceased family members and ancestors to have all the money and things they would need in the afterlife. Also, they believe that by burning fake money, they are able to repay any debts the deceased may have accrued when on earth and wasn’t able to pay it back in good time. They do all this to ward off evil and prevent frustrating the ancestors and other angry ghosts.
One of the most popular traditions during the Hungry Ghost Festival is sending goats. Chinese custom during this time requires that one of the uncles or a grandfather on the mother’s side send a live and healthy goat to his nephew or grandson. Aside from being the best sacrificial animals in China , goats are a symbol of abundance and health. So, by sending goats to other family members, it communicates a message of health and wards off evil.
hungry ghost festival customs
In Hebei Province:
In Botou City and Nanpi County, on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, people bring fruits, dried meat, wine , and paper money to their ancestors’ graves for worship. They also carry hemp stalks to the fields as an offering, known as “offering the new.” In Guangping County, people offer fresh food to their ancestors and prepare fruits, vegetables, and steamed mutton to give to their grandchildren, known as “sending the lamb.” In Qinghe County, on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, people visit the graves for worship and offer steamed mutton to their daughters.
In Shanxi Province:
In Yonghe County, scholars offer worship to the God of Scholars (魁星) on this day. In Changzi County, shepherds hold a sheep-slaughtering competition on the occasion of the Mid-Yuan Festival, believing it can increase sheep production. They also give meat to relatives and friends. If a family is too poor to afford a sheep, they steam dough into the shape of a sheep as a substitute. In Yangcheng County, rural families create paper cats, tigers, and figures of grains using wheat bran and fresh grass. These are then set up in the fields as offerings in a ritual called “walking the fields.” In Mayi County, people make figures out of wheat dough in the shape of children, known as “dough figures,” and exchange them among relatives’ homes. In Xinzhou, villagers hang colorful paper flags in the fields on this day.
In Henan Province:
In Shangqiu County, during the worship of the Land Deity (地官) on the Mid-Yuan Festival, people hang paper flags at their doorways, believing it can prevent insects. In Mengjin County, people fly kites during the Mid-Yuan Festival. In Jia County, people draw a gray circle in front of their doors on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month and burn paper figures within it as an offering to ancestors.
In Shandong Province:
In Changdao, fishermen create small boats from wooden boards and stick a paper note reading “For use by [Name]” on them. These boats are set adrift in the water, symbolizing the transportation of souls across realms. In Zhanhua County, people build “hemp houses” using hemp stalks and fresh leaves, where they place ancestral tablets for worship. In Dezhou, Ling County, the Mid-Yuan Festival is known as “Pinching Mouth Festival.” People eat plain food on this day.
In Shaanxi Province:
In Lintong County, people burn paper offerings to the mythological figure Magu on the Mid-Yuan Festival. In Chenggu County, rural households hold a banquet known as “hanging hoes” to celebrate the festival. In Yang County, farmers go to the fields in the morning of the Mid-Yuan Festival, choose the tallest and most vigorous rice ears, and hang them with multicolored paper flags, known as “field flags.”
In Jiangsu Province:
In Wuxi County, people use tin foil to fold ingots, which are then burned as offerings. This practice is known as “binding ghost affinity.” In Yizheng County, a paper ghost figure is popular, containing a bowl lamp inside. They hold a feast and invite 24 old women to participate in the rituals, known as “Twenty- Four Walks.”
In Zhejiang Province:
In Jiashan County, during the Mid-Yuan Festival, people release floating lamps on water to guide wandering spirits. These lamps are made of paper and have various shapes, and they are believed to lead lost souls to the offerings and incense. In Tianzhu County, a similar tradition of worshiping ancestors and sending off wandering spirits is practiced.
In Guangdong Province:
In southern China, people observe the tradition of worshiping ancestors on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month. Both the rich and the poor prepare food, candles , and paper money as offerings to their ancestors to show their remembrance. This day is known as “the 14th of the seventh month.” People also engage in the practice of “water lamps,” releasing lamps on water to guide spirits.
In Guangxi Province:
In Guilin, people hold a series of rituals from the 7th day to the 14th night of the seventh lunar month to welcome and send off ancestors. They float paper boats and burn offerings to guide spirits. The day is known as “the Ghost Gate is open,” and it’s believed that spirits can freely roam between realms during this time.
In Hubei Province:
In Macheng, people slaughter livestock and gather with relatives to burn paper money and offer worship to ancestors around the 12th to 15th days of the seventh lunar month. This is known as “sending the old guests.”
On the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, the Water Lantern Festival is celebrated in Thailand. People release sky lanterns to pray for the souls of the departed.
The Obon Festival, also known as the “Ullambana” festival in Japan, originated from China during the Tang dynasty and was introduced to Japan during the Asuka period. The festival lasts from the 13th to the 16th of July in urban areas and from the 13th to the 16th of August in rural areas. Activities include cleaning graves before the 13th, welcoming ancestral spirits on the 13th, and sending them off on the 16th. There is a custom of giving gifts to the spirits, and people gather to perform a dance known as “Bon Odori,” which involves intricate hand movements similar to today’s Para Para dance. The Obon Festival holds significant importance in Japan and is considered a major holiday, second only to New Year ’s Day. Companies often grant a week-long vacation known as “Obon holiday,” during which many Japanese working away from home return to their hometowns for family reunions and ancestral rites.
The Middle of the Seventh Month Festival, also known as the “Bae Chil” or “Baek Jung” Festival, is a traditional holiday in North Korea. It has its roots in the Chinese Taoist and Buddhist Ullambana festivals and has developed its own unique characteristics in North Korea. While the festivals in China and Japan emphasize ancestor worship and appeasing spirits, the North Korean Middle of the Seventh Month Festival retains a focus on celebrating the autumn harvest and agrarian festivities, with ancestor worship and remembrance as secondary aspects.
In the Chinese communities of Singapore, besides the traditional customs of ancestor worship and offerings during the Ghost Month, there is a unique entertainment activity known as the “Seventh Month Opera” or simply “Opera.” This involves setting up temporary stages in open spaces with decorations such as sound systems and lighting. Rows of chairs are placed for the audience, with the front row typically left empty for the “good brothers” (spirits). Performances include comedic skits, magic tricks, and lively dances, and these opera performances occur throughout the entire seventh lunar month.
In the Chinese communities of Malaysia, the Middle of the Seventh Month Festival, also known as “Yu Lan Sheng Hui” or “Qing Zan Zhong Yuan,” involves not only traditional performances and rituals for ancestral spirits but also a unique entertainment activity to amuse the spirits. Similar to Singapore, a form of opera culture called “Tai Chor” exists, and it shares similarities with Singapore’s opera culture.
People believe that during the middle of the seventh lunar month, ancestors return to visit their descendants. Thus, ancestral worship is conducted as an expression of traditional values like honoring one’s roots and showing gratitude to ancestors. The ceremonies take place around the mid of July, coinciding with the autumn harvest season, symbolizing the sharing of bountiful crops with ancestors. During normal days, ancestor worship involves lighting incense, but during the “Ghost Month,” ancestors’ tablets are respectfully placed on special altars with offerings of incense and tea served three times a day.
Burning Paper Offerings:
The most prominent ritual during the Middle of the Seventh Month Festival is the burning of paper offerings. It is believed that the paper in the living world becomes money in the afterlife, so people burn paper offerings to provide money for their deceased ancestors. When burning offerings at graves, a few pieces of paper are often left behind, which are then burned at crossroads to offer alms to homeless wandering spirits, preventing them from robbing the money intended for their ancestors.
The festival includes various practices like burning incense and setting off firecrackers on the fourteenth or fifteenth night, as well as offerings to the land and crops. Paper strips in different colors are wrapped around the ears of crops after burning paper offerings, believed to protect them from hail and ensure a bountiful autumn harvest.
Wishing for Abundance: The festival’s rituals are closely associated with praying for a bountiful harvest. On a night known as “Shi Gu,” households burn incense to pray for abundant rice harvests, and branches of incense are inserted into the ground, symbolizing the prosperity of the rice harvest.
Eating Duck: Many regions across the country choose to eat duck during the Middle of the Seventh Month, as ducks are associated with water, which connects to the concept of crossing over spirits using water lanterns. There is also a play on words with “duck” and “pressure,” suggesting that eating duck suppresses or pacifies the spirits. In some places like Dongguan, people often eat duck cooked with lotus root.
Sky Lantern Dancing: In areas like Tiandeng, Guangxi, during the Middle of the Seventh Month, the tradition of sky lantern dancing takes place. Originally involving superstitious activities to welcome deities and repel plague spirits, it has evolved into a folk sports event. The activity takes place on a flat field, with 72 small bowls filled with oil arranged in 9 rows. Lanterns are lit, and participants wear masks and carry instruments like wooden fish , small drums, gongs , and cymbals. Dancing follows a rhythmic pattern among the lanterns, creating a captivating scene resembling a dragon dance in the starlit night.
Releasing Water Lanterns: A custom during the Middle of the Seventh Month involves releasing water lanterns. Lanterns are placed on floating bases, and on the night of the festival, they are set afloat on rivers, lakes , or the sea to drift away with the currents.
“Releasing Flames” Ritual: An important activity during the Obon Festival involves “releasing flames.” “Flames” refer to hungry ghosts in Buddhist cosmology. This activity aims to offer food to wandering spirits and provide offerings for them. The ritual involves chanting and performing rites by monks, followed by the sprinkling of rice and clean water to offer sustenance to the spirits.
Water Lanterns for Solitary Spirits: Water lanterns, also known as “lotus lanterns,” are placed on floating bases with lit candles or small lamps. These lanterns are released into rivers, lakes, and seas, allowing them to float and drift away. This custom has roots in the practice of lighting lanterns during the Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival) and has evolved into a joyful activity in modern times.
Wishing for Abundance: One of the goals of releasing water lanterns is to offer prayers for abundance and blessings. The act of lighting lanterns and allowing them to drift away symbolizes guiding spirits to a better realm and bringing good fortune and prosperity to the living world.
what happens during the ghost festival ?
The festival is believed to be a time when the spirits of the dead are allowed to return to the human world to seek offerings from the living. Here is a breakdown of what happens during the Ghost Festival:
One of the key elements of the Ghost Festival is the making of offerings to the spirits of the dead. These offerings typically consist of food, incense, and paper money, which are burned as offerings to the spirits. It is believed that these offerings will appease the hungry ghosts and prevent them from causing harm to the living.
The Ghost Festival is just one part of a larger period of time known as the Ghost Month. This month-long period is believed to be a time when the spirits of the dead are particularly active and when the living should be especially careful to avoid angering or offending them. During this month, many people avoid taking long trips or making major life changes, as it is believed that doing so could invite bad luck or the wrath of the spirits.
Another important aspect of the Ghost Festival is the burning of incense. Many people burn incense as an offering to the spirits, with the smoke from the incense being believed to help guide the spirits to the offerings. It is also believed that the scent of the incense will help to soothe the spirits and make them less likely to cause mischief or harm.
The Ghost Festival is also marked by the lighting of lanterns, which are believed to help guide the spirits back to the underworld. These lanterns may be simple paper lanterns, or they may be more elaborate and ornate, with intricate designs and decorations.
In many parts of China, the Ghost Festival is also marked by performances of traditional Chinese opera or other forms of entertainment. These performances are believed to be a way to please the spirits and bring good luck, and they are often attended by large crowds of people.
In some parts of China, the Ghost Festival is also associated with the tradition of ghost marriage. This tradition involves marrying off the spirits of unmarried dead people in order to provide them with companionship in the afterlife. While the tradition has fallen out of favor in many parts of China, it is still practiced in some areas.
Hungry Ghost Festival Taboo
1.Avoid discussing ghosts and supernatural beings on this day. It is said that ghosts come out in droves, especially in temples and places where ceremonies are held. It is also best to avoid talking too much during the Ghost Festival, as ghosts may be passing by you.
2.Do not walk on dark or deserted roads. Do not stay outside after 11 PM. This day is known for its ghosts and evil spirits, and it is best to avoid being outside and not returning home at night is a major taboo.
3.Avoid carrying items that attract ghosts, such as bells, wind chimes, or playing the Ouija board. These items can easily attract unwanted entities and negative energy.
4.Do not pick up money or touch offerings left for the ghosts. These items are meant for the spirits, and taking them without their consent can bring bad luck and misfortune.
5.Avoid taking pictures at night. Mirrors and phones can capture unclean entities, and taking pictures at night can attract negative energy.
6.Do not step on burnt offerings or paper money left for the ghosts. These offerings are meant for the spirits, and stepping on them can offend them and bring bad luck.
7.Do not touch or pat someone’s shoulder or head. It is believed that humans have three spiritual flames on their body, and touching or patting them can extinguish these flames, making them vulnerable to negative energy.
8.Do not swim in water bodies during the Ghost Festival. Ghosts and evil spirits are known to roam freely on this day, and swimming in water bodies can make one vulnerable to their negative influence.
9.Women on their menstrual cycle should avoid certain activities such as ceremonies, as they are believed to be impure and vulnerable to negative energy.
10.Do not hang wet clothes outside during the night. Wet clothes can attract negative energy and spirits, making them vulnerable to their influence.
11.Avoid sleeping with your hair unkempt during the Ghost Festival. This can make you appear like a ghost to other spirits and attract them towards you.
12.Do not whistle at night. Whistling is believed to attract the attention of ghosts and is considered bad luck.
Significance of the Ghost Festival
From the legends associated with the Ghost Month, we can deeply understand the dual significance of the festival. Firstly, it upholds the virtue of filial piety by honoring and remembering ancestors. Secondly, it promotes the principles of empathy and philanthropy, encouraging acts of kindness and charity towards others. These aspects are driven by a compassionate perspective and carry a strong sense of human compassion. Thus, while celebrating the Middle of the Seventh Month and paying respects to the spirits, it is important to transcend the focus on ghosts and emphasize the importance of mutual love.
In terms of cultural significance, the Middle of the Seventh Month is also one of the traditional Chinese ancestor worship festivals, reflecting a deep-seated belief system. The festival holds the essence of intangible cultural heritage, embodying a culture that reveres ancient traditions while remaining relevant in the modern context. This tradition embodies the ancient concept of “honoring the past and cherishing the distant,” with its core cultural value lying in the acts of showing reverence to ancestors and fulfilling filial piety.
Hungry Ghost Festival vs. Halloween
The Hungry Ghost Festival is perhaps one of the most popular Halloween-related festivals in China and it is celebrated at the time of the year when the moon is full.
According to the Chinese, there is a bridge between the dead and the living on the night of the full moon. For this reason, they try as much as possible to take precautions that prevent them from finding themselves in a compromising situation that may cost their lives. Also, the Chinese find all possible ways to honor the dead by lighting floating river lanterns, burning paper money, and sending goats. All these activities and traditions are done to protect themselves from pranks and attacks by angry ghosts, to honor famous people from the past, and to worship their long-dead ancestors. They believe that by appeasing the ghosts, they can help protect them every other day.
Halloween or the Night of the Dead, on the other hand, originated from the traditional holiday of Celts in Great Britain. The Celts believed that the last day of October was the ‘ghost day’ or ‘the day of the dead. Further, they believed that on that particular day, the ghosts often crossed over the boundary between the living and the dead. Halloween, however, is currently characterized by dressing up as ghosts, and trick-or-treating.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the most important and intriguing festivals in China. The Chinese perform several rituals during this time, and the rituals are meant to welcome the spirits and alleviate them from any kind of suffering they may have gone through in the underworld.
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What is chinese folk religion-14 types, what does red mean in chinese culture, what does 555 mean in chinese, about the author.
My name is Yelang, I love my country. I love Chinese history , Chinese culture and Chinese food , I want to share my story to friends all over the world. Truly, without any political bias, let you know my motherland. For this reason, I have traveled all over China's 20 + provinces and visited more than 100 + cities. At the same time, I read a lot of books and articles, and let you know through the website of sonofchina. At the same time, I hope to get to know friends all over the world and know different countries in the world through sonofchina.So, if you have any questions, please let me know.
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Russia establishes special site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600
A special production site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600 fast reactor under construction has been established at Russia’s Mashinostroitelny Zavod (MSZ - Machine-Building Plant) in Elektrostal (Moscow region), part of Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company.
As part of the project, MSZ had upgraded existing facilities fo the production of fuel for fast reactors, TVEL said on 3 March. Unique equipment has been created and installed, and dummy CFR-600 fuel assemblies have already been manufactured for testing.
The new production site was set up to service an export contract between TVEL and the Chinese company CNLY (part of China National Nuclear Corporation - CNNC) for the supply of uranium fuel for CFR-600 reactors. Construction of the first CFR-600 unit started in Xiapu County, in China's Fujian province in late 2017 followed by the second unit in December 2020. The contract is for the start-up fuel load, as well as refuelling for the first seven years. The start of deliveries is scheduled for 2023.
“The Russian nuclear industry has a unique 40 years of experience in operating fast reactors, as well as in the production of fuel for such facilities,” said TVEL President Natalya Nikipelova. “The Fuel Division of Rosatom is fulfilling its obligations within the framework of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the development of fast reactor technologies. These are unique projects when foreign design fuel is produced in Russia. Since 2010, the first Chinese fast neutron reactor CEFR has been operating on fuel manufactured at the Machine-Building Plant, and for the supply of CFR-600 fuel, a team of specialists from MSZ and TVEL has successfully completed a complex high-tech project to modernise production,” she explained.
A special feature of the new section is its versatility: this equipment will be used to produce fuel intended for both the Chinese CFR-600 and CEFR reactors and the Russian BN-600 reactor of the Beloyarsk NPP. In the near future, the production of standard products for the BN-600 will begin.
The contract for the supply of fuel for the CFR-600 was signed in December 2018 as part of a governmental agreement between Russia and China on cooperation in the construction and operation of a demonstration fast neutron reactor in China. This is part of a wider comprehensive programme of cooperation in the nuclear energy sector over the coming decades. This includes serial construction of the latest Russian NPP power units with generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China (Tianwan and Xudabao NPPs). A package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in 2018 during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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Nina Sorokina (1942-2011)
IMDbPro Starmeter See rank
- Actress (as N. Sorokina)
- Kitti (as N. Sorokina)
- 1975 • 1 ep
- (as N. Sorokina)
- N. Sorokina
- May 13 , 1942
- Elektrostal, Moscow Oblast, Russian SFSR, USSR [now Russia]
- October 8 , 2011
- Moscow, Russia
- Other works She performed in the ballet, "Lieutenant Kije," "Paganini," and "School of Ballet," in a Bolshoi Ballet production at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, England with Valery Antenov, Rimma Karelskaya, Yaroslav Sehk, Ekaterina Maximova, Erik Volodine, Nina Timofeyeva, Maya Samokhvalova, Maris Liepa, Vladimir Vasiliev, Mikhail Lavrovsky, and Vladimir Nikonov in the cast. Alexander Kopylov and Algis Zhuraytis conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
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