Ghost Festival

The Ghost Festival (Guijie) takes place in the middle of the ‘ghost month’ (guiyue): the fifteenth day of the seventh month. In some parts of China, a’ritual of universal salvation’ (pudu) is performed in order to save the souls of the unfortunate dead (guhun yegui/solitary souls and marginal ghosts), lest they come back or linger and cause trouble (see Gongde; Shuilu zhai). In Minnan-speaking areas (i.e. Fujian), for example, every temple and every street celebrates the Pudu. This ritual does exist among the Hakka, but it is not a community festival: each family prepares, on its own, a sacrifice for the hungry ghosts.
In Baisha (Shanghang, western Fujian), for example, people eat early that evening and then go to a crossroads to deposit a rice cake. Even more interesting, in Dongliu (Wuping, western Fujian), people write their own names and those of their ancestors on packages of paper money which they then burn outside the gate; at the same time, but off to one side, they burn money for the souls of the unfortunate dead. In the context of Jiao (‘offering’) celebrated for the souls of the unhappy dead by Buddhist monks in the ancestral halls of each lineage segment, the Gao of Caofang (Xuanhe, Liancheng, western Fujian) prepare, and later burn in front of the temple, the same type of package on which is written the names of their five ascendant generations. The same village had ‘associations for those without sacrifices’: accompanied by a master of Confucian rites (lisheng), their members went to one of twelve sites ‘where there were many ghosts’ in order to make sacrifice. In a village in Shangyou county (Gannan) the Li family hung up the portraits of their ancestors at the time of this festival, and no one would have dreamed of leaving the house: everyone feared his sacrificial money might be stolen by a visiting neighbour! The place of ancestors during the Ghost Festival is far more important among the Hakka than it is among Minnan- or Cantonese- speaking peoples.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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