Feeding China’s Hungry Ghosts

History.com says, “Halloween, one of the world’s oldest holidays, is still celebrated today in a number of countries around the globe. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, honors deceased loved ones and ancestors. In countries such as Ireland, Canada and the United States, adults and children alike revel in the popular Halloween holiday, which derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals. Traditions include costume parties, trick-or-treating, pranks and games.”

The closest celebration in China to Halloween is The Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated the 14th or 15th night of the 7th lunar month. This year that day fell on September 5th while Ghost Month lasted from August 22nd to September 19th.

Similar to Latin America’s Day of the Dead, The Ghost Festival, also known as The Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries, in which ghosts and/or spirits of deceased ancestors come from the lower realm and/or hell to visit the living.

Buddhists and Taoists in China claim that the Ghost Festival originated with the canonical scriptures of Buddhism, but many of the visible aspects of the ceremonies originate from Chinese folk religion, and other local folk traditions (The Ghost Festival in Medieval China by Stephen Teiser).

In America, children wear costumes and go door to door collecting free candy.  In China, the opposite takes place; food is offered to dead ancestors, joss paper is burned, and scriptures are chanted.

Chinese Culture.net says the Hungry Ghost Festival is “Celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially in Singapore and Malaysia.” It is believed by many Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to let out the hungry ghosts who want food.

History.com says, “Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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8 Responses to Feeding China’s Hungry Ghosts

  1. Deceased ancestors from the lower realms?!? I wonder if chanting and offerings are done for spiritual protection.

    • I think that is exactly the reason although they probably justify it by another explanation. I’ve read that it is thought that if the hungry dead aren’t fed, they will cause problems … whatever that would be. Imagine something similar to Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and the three ghosts that visit Scrooge but worse.

      • It’s fascinating (and a little concerning imo) how modern man’s regard for the spiritual world is virtually nonexistent. The ancients nourished their deceased ancestors with food, incense and prayer while modern man reduces them to spooky tales and cheap theatric props. Will this ignorance continue, I wonder.

      • It looks like, for many, the ignorance will not only continue but follow the highway of alternative news (based on lies and conspiracy theories) until they might as well live in an alternative universe … just hook them up to virtual reality and keep their bodies in commas so only their minds are active. I read recently that some guy married his computer.

        But there will be some who will take another path toward real knowledge based on reality in the real world. All they have to do is give up smartphones, and never text anyone, never play video games. All their friends will be real people they meet face-to-face. They might even visit libraries and read real books. The internet isn’t all bad because of Meetup where people find groups and actually go meet people in those groups inside real buildings or at outdoor events.

        I imagine while many will be lost online in a virtual world, there will be some who turn off the computer and join a group for a trek through nature: mountain trails, beaches, deserts, lakes, rivers.

      • Yes, I believe balance is always the answer. Nature should be respected while technology should be explored. Our essence is spiritual and should always keep us grounded while the human drive towards discovery must be met. Easier said than done, though.

      • Maybe balance could be as simple as: during the hours where we are awake, we spend two hours off of the internet and not watching TV, playing video games or texting for every hour we do. That should force people to find other things to do with family and real-world friends. When they get bored hanging out at the mall, they could play chess and talk or just take a walk.

        For instance, I have a rule that I can’t watch DVDs (movies and TV series) until after 8PM. I don’t even own a video game, a smartphone, and I don’t text.

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