Throughout the month of August, residents of Taiwan are burning paper money and worshipping at their local temples and on the streets to feed the hungry ghosts of Taiwan.
This festival is called Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated for a month, and it is usually held during the month of August.
During this celebration, Taiwanese people believe that the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts go out from netherworld to look for food.
The original customs of this festival came from Mainland China, but it also celebrated by other Buddhist Asian countries. The customs and beliefs that are celebrated in Taiwan, however, differ from other countries slightly. For one, it is very common for people to burn joss papers, which is a type of currency for the dead. They believe that by offering joss paper, the dead will be able to purchase whatever they need in the afterlife, thus ensuring that they do not come back to the land of the living for their valuables.
During August, but also on other special dates throughout the year, it’s very common to see families and places of business and worship offering fresh fruits vegetables, snacks and drinks on tables in front of their homes and businesses. Elaborate meals are prepared with empty seats at the table for each deceased relative within family. These foods are meant to appease the ghosts and it is believed that food will sustain them during their long journey back to the underworld.
Along with food offerings, traditional concerts and shows are often held for the ghosts’ viewing pleasure. Traditionally, during these concerts, the first row of chairs is always left empty for the spirits. It is believed that if you sit in one of these seats, you are inviting a spirit to come and possess you. So please be aware of where you are sitting during these ceremonies!
On the 14th day, in Taiwan, candles and lotus flowers are placed in lanterns that float on water. The Taiwanese believe that ghosts can find way back to hell through these floating lanterns.
Taiwanese cities such as Keelung in the north, Toucheng on the East Coast, and Hengchun in the southern part of Taiwan, are all well known throughout Taiwan for their elaborate Ghost Festival celebrations.
The customs and rituals that are celebrated during Ghost Month are meant to keep the ghosts happy, but that is not the only reason why this festival is celebrated in Taiwan. Celebrating Ghost Month in Taiwan and ensuring that the ghosts of Taiwan are treated with respect ensures that you and your family will have great luck in the year to come.
About the Author
Bilguun Namsrai is a Mongolian student who has been studying in Taipei, Taiwan since 2012. She completed her final year of undergraduate in capital city of Mongolia where she studied International Law. Currently, she is a senior graduate journalism student at Chinese Culture University.
While studying, Bilguun has always had an interest in law and journalism field. Upon graduation, Bilguun is looking to start her career as a news reporter, anchor in broadcasting channels, or as a contract lawyer. She is a member of the Foreign Students Club in Taiwan.