If you’re living in China and you notice rising duck sales and gratuitous scenes of people tossing around money, it’s probably Ghost Festival time. This may sound like Halloween, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
In China, they say that when people die, their souls were believed to live on ‘in the world of darkness’. A comfortable afterlife is possible only if descendants care for them, otherwise they turn into ‘gui’ ghosts, in other words: “desperate ghosts”. Desperate ghosts are still not as frightening as ‘malicious ghosts’, which are created if someone died before their time was actually up, in incidents like murder, suicide or other similar circumstances. These spirits or ghosts will haunt the place where they passed away as an act of revenge.
Throwing money on the other hand is a symbolic act to buying those ghosts off. It is the only real way to deal with them. Chinese people will refer to these acts as ‘haoxiongdi’ which means ‘good brethren’. This is done outside the houses and apartments to incentivize spirits to remain outside.
You may wonder if that really brings them relief for the year? Assuming the ghosts exist, the beauty of the ceremony is that the doors to the underworld are only open once a year. Only during this time the souls can wander on Earth. That is why one will see a lot of families offering food, gifts or paper money imitations outside their homes only at this time of the year.
There can be other rituals / ceremonies in addition to these depending on either family customs or religious beliefs. For instance, the Buddhist and Taoist priests throw candy and buns into the observing masses during an outdoor ceremony. They are intended for the ghosts but end up with the children. Some people also invite gods and have musical performances to celebrate this festival.
However, the celebration does not affect work life at all as this is not a holiday. So if you are expecting a shipment from China, don’t expect a delay as the show still goes on.
If there’s something you wish for us to write about, feel free to drop us a message.
Stepanchuk, Carol, and Charles Choy Wong. “Feast of the Hungry Ghosts.” Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts: Festivals of China. 1st ed., China Books & Periodicals, San Francisco, 1991. 73-74. Print.