Hungry Ghost Festival, Taiwan
Along with the rest of the Chinese societies around the world, Taiwan commemorates the Zhong Yuan Festival, 中元节 more commonly known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, with a series of private and public rituals.
Individual families set up an altar to pray for the spirits with offerings of food, wine and material goods made of paper. These are private events and have low public visibility.
Zhong Yuan Prayers, 中元祭
The public prayers are known as Zhong Yuan Prayers, 中元祭, and there are at least two ways to organize it. One is a collective effort jointly financed and managed by clan associations or by a group of people who work or live close by.
The other public prayers are conducted by temples and monasteries. This is the most visible of all where elaborate rites are performed for the spirits. Typically, a long bamboo pole, sometimes over ten meters long, is hoisted with a lantern hung at the end. This lantern serves to guide the wandering spirits towards the temple. There is also a water lantern for water spirits.
Where the spirits gather, offerings and prayers organized for them so that the spirits may, depending on the particular discourse and belief, gain merit to be reborn in a higher realm or to expiate their sins so that they can gain salvation.
In some temples, a gupeng, 孤棚, tentage with tables set up, is arranged for devotees to offer food to the spirits. At the end of the prayer, devotees are invited to qianggu, 抢孤; collect whichever food they like believing that it will bring devotees blessings.
Keelung’s famous Hungry Ghost celebration
While the prayers occur all over Taiwan, the port city of Keelung just outside of Taipei is very famous for the celebration of Hungry Ghost Festival with elaborate rituals and performances throughout the month.
The rituals along with various performances are even considered a tourist attraction. In fact, there is even a museum of hungry ghost festival (probably the first and only in the world ) called the Keelung Mid Summer Ghost Festival Museum 基隆市中元祭祀文物馆.
Hungry Ghost offerings
A major part of the rituals is burning of material offerings to the spirits. These are worldly goods made of paper that are transferred to the spirits by burning them.
Although the Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional event, the offerings burned demonstrate a cultural practice that incorporates and reflects the changing lifestyle of the people and even a touch of modernity and globalization.
Traditional ghost money includes the hell banknotes, paper gold and silver ingots. A few years ago, Taiwan producers have launched a package of five currencies; Japanese Yen, Chinese Renminbi, New Taiwan Dollars, US dollars and the Euro.
While the Hungry Ghost Festival inevitably creates images of ghosts and spirits, observant audiences will also see that it is about collective concerns for the less fortunate and also an opportunity to study the ways in which products of modernity is incorporated into traditional worship practices.
Hungry Ghost Festival into UNSECO’s list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity".
Although Hungry Ghost Festival is commemorated by Chinese all over the world, Taiwan has a long Hungry Ghost heritage, a dedicated museum and a port town famous for its Hungry Ghost Festival celebration. Taiwan might be able to spearhead the proposal to include the Hungry Ghost Festival into United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity".
Hungry Ghost Festival can then join the Mazu worship, Dragon Boat Festival and Nanyin music that are already in the UNSECO list.
Event date: Aug/sept 2010
7th month, year of the Tiger