I was going to continue writing about the reclamation and the changes to the ferry piers in Hong Kong, but this has to wait a little. Instead, I want to write about the hungry ghost festival. Hungry ghosts are the restless spirits of people who did not have a funeral.
According to traditional Chinese belief, the seventh month in the lunar calendar is when restless spirits roam the earth. That’s from August 14th to September 12th this year, with August 27th being the main Ghost day.
Even if it might sound fashioned and traditional, the festival is still celebrated today. Well, celebrated is the wrong word: People pay tribute to unknown wandering ghosts and ensure that they do not do anything wrong to anger them. That’s why they keep them well fed with offerings outside their home, visit temples/churches to pray for the deceased and keep their doors locked at night!
There are many ways to please the hungry ghosts:
- Family members usually sacrifice to their deceased ancestors and relatives during the month and on the ghost day. The family’s ancestral tablets and photographs will be put on the table with incense burning near them
- But the activities do not stop at home: People also pay tribute to those unknown wandering ghosts with food and burn joss paper outside their homes (here is an example of what I witnessed during the ghost month in Singapore), they visit shrines and buddhists and taoists usually perform ceremonies to help the ghosts ease the sufferings
- On the evening of the ghost day, people also make lanterns and float them on the river to help their relatives find their way back to home
- One of the main highlights of the festival is the Chinese operas, usually held on temporary bamboo stages, performed to praise the charitable and pious deeds of the deities
- There might also be loud dragon and lion dances with plenty of noise to scare away the evil ghosts
On Wednesday afternoon (Sep 2) I was walking along the football pitch of the Moreton Terrace Temporary Playground behind the Central Library – that’s where they set up a stage to play Chinese Opera and an area to pay tribute to the ghosts (during Sep 3-6).
I was brave enough to take some pictures of the fierce-looking ghosts, despite some of the workers shaking their head at me (it is said that it is not good to capture an evil spirit on film, but I decided to take the risk).
There were several ghost statutes – and I believe this one is Taai Si Wong, who reports to the King of Hell. He looks fierce, with his burning eyes. His angry face helps maintaining peace and order so that the hungry ghosts do not fight for food. The effigy of Taai Si Wong is burnt with joss paper to send him back to hell when the Hungry Ghost Festival is over.
Here are a few taboos, if you want to stay safe during the hungry ghost month:
- As the month is inauspicious, do not start a new business, marry or move houses
- Be careful of your activities: do not go swimming or strolling at night, as you might encounter evil ghosts that will attack you
- Do not pick up coins or money found in the street, these are for ghosts
- Do not disturb any offerings, and if you step on one by accident, apologise loudly
- Do not wear red, sing or whistle as this attracts ghosts
- Keep away from walls, as ghosts like to stick to walls
Here is also an article in the SCMP if you want to find out more about the hungry ghosts.