The Chinese version of Halloween

October 30, 2013

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 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.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

The Hungry Ghost Festival – The Chinese Halloween – Part 1/2

October 29, 2011

Halloween in America is celebrated the last day in October.

However, in China, the closest celebration to America’s Halloween is The Hungry Ghost Festival, which is celebrated the 14th or 15th night of the 7th lunar month in August. For 2011, that was August 14. In 2012, it will be August 31.

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 or hell to visit the living.

Buddhists from China and Taoists 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 (see Stephen Teiser’s 1988 book, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China).

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

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

By comparison, says, “Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, 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.”

Continued on October 30, 2011 in The Hungry Ghost Festival – The Chinese Halloween – Part 2


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. 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.

Subscribe to iLook China — there is an “E-mail Subscription” link at the top of the screen.

About iLook China