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Different Customs and Taboos of the Hungry Ghost Festival in China

Sep. 3, 2020

The Ghost Festival “鬼节 (guǐ jié)”, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, Mid Year Festival “中元节 (zhōng yuán jié)”, or Yulan Festival is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in certain East Asian countries.

This festival is known as a traditional Chinese festival that occurs on “July and a half”. The emergence of “July and a half” can be traced back to the Chinese ancient ancestor worship and harvest festival. In ancient times, people often depended on the protection of gods for a successful harvest of farm crops. This year it falls on Wednesday, September 2, 2020.

The worshipping of ancestors also happens in spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but early autumn is the most important. When people hold ceremonies to offering sacrifices to their ancestors in autumn, they will first offer the best seasonal products to God, then taste the fruits of these labors and pray for a good harvest in the coming year.

Different customs

In the north, for example, in Hebei Province, fruit, preserved meat, wine, etc. are brought to the ancestral “ 墓地(mù dì) cemetery” on the 15th of July (Lunar Calendar). In Henan Province, a paper flag is hung at the gate, which is said to be insect-proof.

墓地 (mù dì): n. cemetery

Example:

tā de yí tǐ mái zài mù dì.
他的遗体埋在墓地。
His remains were interred in the cemetery.

tā men yì qǐ qù mù dì le.
他们一起去墓地了
They went to the cemetery together.

While in the south, in places such as Fujian, lanterns are first set off in various waters to welcome the “灵魂 (líng hún) souls” of the dead. They help light the way to the souls and “invite” them to share the incense. It is known as a “water lamp”. In Guangdong, wine and vegetables, incense sticks, and paper money are used to commemorate the ancestors to honor the memory of the ancestors.

灵魂 (líng hún): n. soul

Example:

tā qù wèi wáng fū de líng hún qí dǎo.
她去为亡夫的灵魂祈祷。
She went to pray for the soul of her late husband.

chàn huǐ jìng huà líng hún .
忏悔净化灵魂。
Confession cleanses the soul.

Other Asian countries have their own unique traditions

In Thailand, people erect sky lanterns to pray for the dead during the Water Lantern Festival.
While in Singapore, they set up temporary stages in open spaces with rows of chairs as an auditorium with very the first row of chairs usually reserved for ghosts.

Japan and Korea have similar customs to China.

Taboos

All of these actions are severely frowned upon and have been “禁忌 (jìn jì) taboo” since the advent of the festival.

1. Hanging wind chimes at the head of the bed, which can easily attract ghosts, and sleeping is the easiest time to be possessed.
2. Burning paper money to be burned for the dead in non-specific occasions.
3. Stealing sacrificial offerings.

禁忌 (jìn jì): n. taboo

Exmaple:

jīn nián , zhè gè ” jìn jì ” bèi dǎ pò le.
今年,这个“禁忌”被打破了
This year the taboo has been broken.

zài zhōngguó, zhíjiē pīpíng lǐngdǎo rén shì jìnjì.
在中国,直接批评领导人是禁忌。
In China, it is taboo to criticize leaders directly。

In ancient times, “July and a half July 15th“ was a folk ancestor worship Festival aimed to remember ancestors, and there were not so many taboos. As long as you abide by the basic rules of the festival, you will not cross taboo boundaries, and there is no need to be too deliberate about your actions. Take the quiz below to check your comprehension of the festival taboos.

HSK 3 quiz
Which one of the following is a taboo for this festival?

A.Hanging wind chimes at the head of the bed
B.Burning paper money to be burned for the dead
C.Stealing food

See Answer Analysis

You May Want to Learn More About Chinese traditional festival :
“Don’t Say Happy Dragon Boat Festival!”
“How Tomb Sweeping Day was Different This Year in China Due to COVID-19”
Top 4 Chinese New Year Traditions Explained”

HSK 1 quiz

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