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HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL

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In Hong Kong, the Hungry Ghost Festival (盂蘭節) is a major Buddhist and Taoist event. Hungry ghosts are the restless spirits of people who did not have a funeral. There is no one visiting their graves and they do not receive the gifts that Chinese people would take to their ancestors to pay respects. They miss out on food and spirit money.



Flags are put up along the roads leading to the tents several days before the celebration starts.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Fu Yan Street in Kwun Tong
Those striking coloured flags indicate local celebrations of the Hungry Ghost festival.

The ghosts can follow the flags to reach the celebrations. The flags are also a landmark for worshippers to locate the tents.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Eastern Street in Sai Ying Pun
There are some red lamps that are installed at street corners in order to guide wandering ghosts to the altar.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Sheung Wan
Such red lamps are supposed to help and guide wandering ghosts to the altars, where offerings are waiting for them.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan
Such red lamps can be seen in traditional Hong Kong districts. This one is located in Man Mo temple in Sheung Wan where an altar with food offerings is waiting for the hungry ghosts!


Hungry Ghost festival
Huge billboard
Huge billboards announce that a Hungry Ghost festival is going to happen.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Huge billboard - -
King George V Memorial Park
This traditional yearly Hungry Ghost festival is happening in King George V Memorial Park in Yau Ma Tei.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Huge billboard - -
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park
Chinese characters are depicting details of the coming Hungry Ghost festival event.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Huge billboards - -
Hong Ning Road Playground in Kwun Tong
Those colorful billboards are lit during the night and can be seen from far away.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Huge billboard - -
King George V Memorial Park
This huge paper door is leading to the yearly Hungry Ghost festival happening in King George V Memorial Park in Yau Ma Tei.


Big paper Ghost King over 5 meters tall can be seen during the Hungry Ghost festival. The eyes of the effigy are covered when it is delivered. They are only supposed to remove the covering when the celebration starts.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
Taai Si Wong, who reports to the King of Hell, has a notebook and acts as the festival's policeman to ensure the ghosts are behaving and everything at the festival has been completed properly.

Every year the Chinese people believe that the gate of hell will open and ghosts are allowed to roam the earth. During July / August, Hungry Ghost festival or "Yue Lan" takes place in many areas in Hong Kong. In each area, it lasts three days.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
Wuhu Street Temporary
Playground in Hung Hom
This is a huge, fiery and striking paper effigy representing Taai Si Wong sitting on a temporary altar. Taai Si Wong reports to the King of Hell.

Taai Si Wong's face features merciless teeth.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
The eyes of the effigy are lit up with bulbs. Most of time a dreadful green or blue color is projected on the effigy.

Taai Si Wong's angry face helps maintaining peace and order so that the hungry ghosts do not fight for food.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
The effigy of Taai Si Wong is burnt with joss paper to send him back to hell when the Hungry Ghost Festival is over.

There are different Chinese communities in Hong Kong such as Hakka, Fishermen, Chiu Chow, Hoklo. The Taai Si Wong effigy is different depending on the community.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
Aldrich Bay playground
in Shau Kei Wan
Some Hungry Ghost events don't have any huge paper ghost effigy. Instead a small poster representation can be seen.

Some people comment that it could be due a lack of money or lack of time as the paper effigy couldn’t be ready on time so they have to find an alternative.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taai Si Wong - -
Aldrich Bay playground
in Shau Kei Wan
It could be due to impossibility to get it on time from the paper master. This paper master job is getting less popular and often works through peak (Hungry Ghosts festival, lantern festival...). There is not enough staff to answer to such peak demand


To stop the ghosts causing problems for the living, many communities provide them with food to appease them. The ghosts feed first but the food does not disappear. Then the living eat the offerings and pray for good luck.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Burning Money - -
Hill Road in Kennedy Town
Sacrificial offerings are made by burning fake money notes, known as hell money, and even paper television or radio sets.

Some families also burn paper houses and cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their world.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Burning Money - -
Kwun Tong
Some presents for the restless spirits are sent to the underworld through fire. So the food, paper clothing and spirit money are all burned for the ghosts.

Believers burn paper money to appease the restless spirits.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Kwun Tong
During the Hungry Ghost festival, people can be seen lighting candles and joss sticks, burning incense papers and offering food at roadsides and crossroads. Some of the offerings are for wandering souls that have no descendents.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Sheung Wan
Such scenes are more likely to happen in more traditional districts such as those in the west part of Hong Kong island (Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun, Kennedy Town...).
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Cheung Sha Wan, Lei Cheung Uk estate
Food, paper clothing and spirit money are all burned for the ghosts during Hungry Ghost festival.

For the street festivities, local residents prepare chicken, duck, and fish for offerings in front of their homes in a ceremony known as doorway worship.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Eastern Street in Sai Ying Pun
One old lady and her grandson are burning papers and making offerings to wandering ghosts and ancestors.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Hang Hau in Tseung Kwan O
In big estate buildings, local people also burn papers inside big cans in outdoor areas.


Hungry Ghost festival pattern is often similar over many areas in Hong Kong. The festival takes place temporarily in areas such as playground areas. A few temporary buildings are made during the three days festival. Those buildings include a Chinese opera theater, an altar for priests, an altar for donations...

Hungry Ghost festival
Altar for priests
Altars are built with bamboo poles. Taoist priests will take place to recite passages from sacred books to ease hungry ghosts.

The Taoist priests chant and perform rituals to pacify the wandering hungry ghosts.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Altar for priests - -
Playground Moreton Terrace in Causeway Bay
In some areas, the opera theater and the Taoist priests shed are so close together that Taoist priests and opera performers voice mix. They anyway perform for the ghosts.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Taoist priest - -
Park in Yuen Long
The Taoist priest recites passages from sacred books loudly to help the Hungry Ghosts to transmigrate to a new life.

They pray to the ghosts for peace, harmony, and happy living. They hope the hungry ghosts will not disturb them in the future.

Hungry Ghost festival
Taoist priests
Traditional taoist rituals are performed to absolve the deceased people from suffering.

Through the night, Taoist priests chant sutras to invite more souls to the party.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Cheung Sha Wan, Lei Cheung Uk estate
Inside the Taoist temporary structure for priests, weird dances were performed to ease ghosts.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Taoist priests are chanting liturgies and are performing complex rituals.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
In the Taoist priests shed, there are portraits of Buddha. There are also yellow and red banners displaying spells.


The Gods Shed is the place to worship the gods. Some offering at the back including the five fruits and five kinds of veggies imitated meat.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
In front of the Gods shed, three big incenses are displayed with some incenses burners.

The 8-foot-high incense candles are set alight at dusk to signal the start of a three-day ritual dedicated to the ghosts.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Dragon Joss Stick - -
During the Ghost festival days, the big Dragon Joss Stick is often used. This huge joss stick is supposed to last during the festival duration, i.e. 3 days.

Huge sticks of incense are burning day and night.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Dragon Joss Stick - -
Hong Ning Road Playground in Kwun Tong
Smoke climbs upwards to the sky from the burning incense sticks at temporary tents set up.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Old lady - -
Yuen Long Park
Old lady burning joss stick to please the visiting ghosts and spirits, as well as deities and ancestors.

Worshippers come to kneel, pray and place fresh incense stick. Most of them are women.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Playground Moreton Terrace in Causeway Bay
Normally the offering done to the ghosts are done by women. It is part of traditional separation of duties between men and women.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Inside the gods shed, behind the offetings, there are three huge objects, the imperial crown, the belt and the boots.


Hungry Ghost festival
- - Paper horse effigy - -
Hill Road in Kennedy Town
There is also a very colorful paper red horse used by the gods beside the gods shed.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Hong Ning Road Playground
in Kwun Tong
After performing the last rites, the effigy of the God of Hades, together with his horse, ship, mansion, paper apparel, hell notes, gold and silver mountains are burnt to return the god back to where he came from.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Paper horse effigy - -
This colorful paper horse effigy is a real size representation of the Horse Spirits during Hungry Ghost festival.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Playground Moreton Terrace in Causeway Bay
Offerings are placed in front of the paper red horse effigy. Salad is given to him.



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