Although this festival is not celebrated in mainland China as it once was, the Festival of the Hungry Ghost originated more than twenty-five-hundred years ago when it was believed by many Chinese that ghosts cannot rest and had to be appeased so they would not turn from wondering ghosts to malevolent demons. By remembering dead family members and paying tribute to them, it is believed that they will not intrude on the lives of the living or cause misfortunes or bad luck.
One legend says that Mu Lian [also known as Maudgalyāyana—568 BCE] told his mother he wanted to be a Buddhist monk and left home.
Years later, he returned to discover that she had died. He knew that his mother had done bad things in her life and was probably in hell. Since his mother had no one to feed her, she had to be hungry so he offered food to her hungry ghost but the food didn’t reach her.
To solve the problem, Mu Lian was told by his Buddhist master to become a vegetarian and perform spiritual deeds. After following this advice, on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month [August], he saved his mother from hell and she was no longer a hungry ghost.
The history of the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghost is much older than the tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween night in the United States—Halloween History.org says that the practice of trick-o- treating spread from the western United States and moved east starting in 1942 during World War Two when sugar was rationed and the practice then became an American tradition.
And according to Time Magazine, Americans spend about $7 Billion annually on Halloween candy, costumes and parties. Time Magazine says, “Modern-day Halloween [October] traditions are said to derive from ancient rituals intended to protect people from ghosts, harsh winters and crop failures.”
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.
Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.