What do people do during the Chinese Ghost Month? PDF Print E-mail


2009.8.26.  Fo Guang Temple (7)People in different regions have different kinds of practices during this month.


China has followed the Buddhist custom of Yulanpen Festival since the Liang Dynasty (502-557).  In addition to offering vegetarian meals to Buddhist monks, special sacrificial ceremonies are held to express greetings and gratitude to ancestors.


During the peak time of the Ghost month, a sacrificial altar is set either at the entrances of main streets or villages.  In front of the altar stands the statue of Dizang, the King of Hell, and plates of rice and flour-made peaches; on the altar are three temporary memorial tablets and three funeral banners.  After midday, whole pigs, whole sheep, chicken, ducks, geese, cakes and fruits donated by households are displayed on the altar. On every sacrifice the Buddhist priest will put a triangular paper banner of three colours with special characters.  When the rite gets started in solemn music, the priest will strike the bell to call back the ghosts, and lead other monks sing incantations and exhortations. Then he will throw the rice and flour-made peaches into the air in all directions for three times, to distribute them to the ghosts.


At night, incense is burnt in front of the door of each household.  The more incense, the better, for the amount of incense stands for the degree of prosperity.


In some places, people float water lanterns.  Such lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a small piece of board.  According to the Chinese tradition, water lanterns are used to direct new ghosts, as ghosts could find their way to the hell when the lanterns are out.  On the festival, all shops are closed to leave the street to the ghosts.  In the middle of each street, an altar of incense burners is set every 100 paces with fresh fruits and sacrificial buns displayed on it.  Behind the altar, Taoist priests will sing songs that only ghosts can understand.


In Taiwan, Zhongyuan Pudu, the Taoist ceremony, is not only a folk activity, but also an opportunity for the government to pray for social peace and benefits.  On the governmental ceremony of Taipei City in 2009, Gods from the four biggest temples of Taipei were set in the Citizens Square, to pray for the country, the society, and victimsof the 8.8 inundation; all the sacrifices were donated to charities afterwards.


In Hong Kong, people will set up a stage for Cantonese opera.  The first show will not invite any audience as it is performed to entertain the ghosts.  There are other activities like distributing free rice to public, and many people will burn paper money and incense on the street during the ghost month.