top

HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL

Increase or decrease font size for easier reading : A+ A-

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.



The Wandering Spirits Shed is located next to the shrine of the King of Ghosts and is opposite of the Taoist priests shed.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Playground Moreton Terrace in Causeway Bay
The Wandering Spirits shed is decorated with blue and white cloths. It is similar to an altar place with tablets for wandering spirits. There are red lanterns hung on the sides to attract the lost souls.
Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
The paper effigy of Taai Si Wong sits behind an incense pot. The effigy of Taai Si Wong is flanked by gold and silver mountains symbolising wealth.

The month is still considered especially unlucky and many young people might avoid getting married, moving house, changing jobs or making large investments in stocks, cars or homes.

Hungry Ghost festival
- - Hungry Ghost festival - -
Local residents prepare offerings and carry them to the main altar at the local playground and join the ceremonies there.


Tradionally every household has to prepare meat, fruits, fresh flowers. They offer these to the hungry ghosts at the playground or on a temporary altar table set up in front of their homes.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Hong Ning Road Playground in Kwun Tong
Local people just want peace so they laid rice, meat and vegetables before an altar at the sports ground. It is a five-course banquet for the ghosts.

Appeasing the ghosts is done through preparing a sumptuous meal for the spirits. Food offering such as fruits (apple, banana, orange), roasted pork, rice, steamed chicken do happen. It brings peace for one year.

Hungry Ghost festival
Evening prayers
People are praying for good luck in order to help the Hungry Ghosts to transmigrate to a new life.

After a performance is over, the houses are pulled down and moved to a new site. All unbroken poles are reused.



Next to the Wandering Spirits shed is the Recommendation shed.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Recommendation shed --
Hill Road in Kennedy Town
Local believers make donation and put names of their ancestors on paper tablets to recommend their ancestors for receiving worships and blessing.

Some Hungry Ghosts festival processions do also happen. During this procession the gods are invited. It is also a reminder to the neighbourhood that the Hungry Ghost festival is coming. The performers from the opera dance and sing to please the deities.

Hungry Ghost festival
Ancestral altar
Many return to pay respects to their ancestors because their ancestral tablet is still here.


Hungry Ghost festival
Presenter
The presenter is here to encourage people to make donations and to buy some miscellaneous objets. Well wishers are donating money to support this event by auctioning products which are auspicious to get donations from the public.

These treasures are believed to have absorbed the prayers offered by the monks and thousands of devotees. People like to think that they contain magical powers that will grant the owners their wishes and desires.

Hungry Ghost festival
Presenter
Auspicious items are auctioned off. The proceeds are used to fund the year's expenses.

One of the highlight is the auction of treasures of fortune. i.e. auspicious items which have been placed in the gods shed throughout the celebration.

Hungry Ghost festival
Presenter
Funds are gathered to pay priests to conducts prayers, buying offerings of food, josspaper, paper effigy of Taai Si Wong and to pay for the stage performance by entertainers.
Hungry Ghost festival
-- Presenter --
Hill Road in Kennedy Town
The auction always attracts many people and is key event during the Hungry Ghost festival.


The opera shed is located opposite of the Gods shed. Chinese opera is performed here for the gods. The show can gain merits for the ancestors. The show is also a key entertainment for the neighbourhood.

Temporary open-air bamboo complexe
-- Temporary open-air bamboo complexe --
Wuhu Street Temporary Playground in Hung Hom
Temporary open-air bamboo complexes are erected in local parks or playgrounds.

The big temporary open-air bamboo complexe is one of the main building during the Hungry Ghost festival. It is used to host a Chiu Chow Chinese opera. Chiu Chow people are also spelled Chaozhou or Teochew people.

Temporary open-air bamboo complexe
-- Temporary open-air bamboo complexe --
Carpenter Road Park in Kowloon City
Shed theatres are usually made of bamboo, wood and palm leaves. These materials are highly flammable and fires were a common hazard to troupes and villages. By the early 1960s, some shed theatres were made from galvanized iron, which was safer and stronger.
Temporary open-air bamboo complexe
-- Temporary open-air bamboo complexe --
On one side there is the theatre which is for running operas for ghosts, gods and human beings to enjoy. In the other side is an an altar where huge sticks of incense are burnt. Behind the altar is the temporary temple where the priests can recite passages from sacred books.

It usually takes 10 workers about a week to build four small houses needed for the Yulan festival.

Temporary open-air bamboo complexe
Opera house
About 4000 bamboo poles are needed to build the framework of a 20 000 sq ft opera house, which is considered small. More than 10 000 are needed to build a big, 100 000 sq ft one. Hundreds of iron sheets are used for roofs and some walls.

Traditional Chinese operas are held to entertain and distract the spirits from their pursuit of chaos. Front seats at these operas remained empty as they were believed to be occupied by ghostly guests. Nowadays, believers politely inquiring whether the seats are taken. At least it is customary to leave the first row of seats empty for the hungry ghosts.

Opera house
-- Opera house --
Cheung Sha Wan, Lei Cheung Uk estate
Sometimes there is a direct path with a door for invisible guests to enjoy directly the Chinese opera.
Temporary open-air bamboo complexe
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Hong Ning Road Playground
in Kwun Tong
This is the special path for the ghosts to go and to enjoy the Teochew Chinese opera.
Opera house
Opera house
A brightly lit stage sits in the large sports ground, where traditional opera singers provide entertainment for the evening.
Temporary open-air bamboo theater
-- Temporary open-air bamboo theater --
Playground Moreton Terrace in Causeway Bay
The top portion of the banner tells the title of the event, the name of the troupe and the name of the major actors and actresses.

Chinese opera do happen when the community scale is big enough. When the community scale is small such as only one block, they might just organize Taoist traditions during the Hungry Ghost festival. Organizing a Chinese opera requires fund raising efforts.

Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Depending of the area, the attendance of Teochew opera can be small or big. Normally when it is near public estates, the attendance is always big.


Chiu Chow opera
Chiu Chow opera
Troupes like the Chiu Chow opera are a fast dying tradition, killed off by age and a lack of interest among the young. Troupes are often coming from mainland China and not anymore from Hong Kong.

Nowadays most of the audiences cannot follow the story lines. So some LCD panels display text in Traditional Chinese characters.

Chiu Chow opera
Chiu Chow opera
Traditional Chiu Chow Opera singers perform in nightly marathons for an audience of specters.

Some Chinese people may observe restrictions during this month. For instance, some believe it is not advisable to wander out of the house at night for fear of encountering ghosts and no organisation of happy occasions such as weddings.

Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Traditional Chinese opera singers perform in a makeshift stage before an elusive audience, i.e. ghosts from hell and humans!

Yue Lan festival such as in Kai Tak East Playground - Choi Hung is a lively traditional event. Many people there are watching Chinese opera and making offerings. Certainly because it is close to Rhythm Garden huge estate.

Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Entertainment including Chinese opera singing and dancing is provided for the enjoyment of the lost souls.
Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
The ghosts like to see singing and dancing also. A full-scale Chinese Opera is offered to them.
Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Traditional opera singers provide entertainment for spirits at the start of a three-day ritual during the Ghost Month.
Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Nowadays mainly middle age people are watching Chinese opera. Cantonese opera was very popular before cinema apparition. Then cinema pushes also Cantonese opera as first movies were about Chinese opera but then it gradually reduces.

There are no more Cantonese operas in urban areas but performances are still happening during traditional festivals such as deity birthday.

Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Chinese opera VCDs performed in other festivals are on sales for fans.
Hungry Ghost festival
Hungry Ghost festival
Only part of the opera troupe gets accommodation arrangement. It is hard for them to come performing in Hong Kong. Summer is too hot. The payment is not better but the opera troupe wants to reach an status of "overseas" or "international" level. (Thanks Paul).


Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
King George V Memorial Park in Yau Ma Tei
The backstage is not always accessible. Sometimes the performers hide the entrance with some cloths.

Performers from mainland China are always friendly and allow to come in the backstage to take pictures. They appreciate photographers who give them some pictures.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Cheung Sha Wan, Lei Cheung Uk estate
Those performers are coming from Fujian province in Mainland China. As usual the performers are very friendly, offering tea, water, fruits, even to eat dinner also and allowing to take whatever pictures in the backstage. I wanted to take pictures of them but finally they all wanted to take pictures of me! It seems I look very tall for them.

Chinese opera troupes come from mainland China. They often come either from Shantou area or Fujian province.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Aldrich Bay playground in Shau Kei Wan
Normally the backstage is divided into three parts. Often on the left part, there are musicians playing cords instruments and a computer operator. On the right part, musicians are playing cymbals and gong. In the middle part, there is a space to sit, chat, change clothes and put make up on. It includes wardrobes with costumes and cupboards with impressive hats such as crowns.

Men and women change clothes together. There is no privacy. Anyway they always keep some white clothes beneath so decency remains.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Temporary open-air bamboo complexes are erected in local parks or playgrounds. The basketball stand can clearly be seen here!

Chinese opera performers receive their salary on daily basis.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
There are elaborate Chinese opera hats and helmets in the backstage.
Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Sau Mau Ping road Soccer Pitch in Sau Mau Ping
Colorful Chinese opera representation viewed from the backstage during Hungry Ghost festival.
Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Sau Mau Ping road Soccer Pitch in Sau Mau Ping
Some opera representations are more colorful than others as they include dances also.

White makeup seems Ok with little impact on the skin despite daily usage according to the performers.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Hong Ning Road Playground
in Kwun Tong
Red color is used as it symbolizes happiness so no surprise that is used for Chinese weddings.

Various troupes require various salary. For Yulan committees having limited budget, they may hire Chinese opera troupe performing in villages. Their skills might be less good. Costumes and decoration might be a bit old or not so clean. Some troupes have been properly trained in Guangzhou. Some others learn through karaoke. Some troupes even sell their VCDs.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Some troupe sleep in the backstage or under the backstage. Couple can sleep together. Single people can sleep wherever they want.

Men sleep in the backstage to take care of the belongings. Depending on the troupe budget or arrangement, women and some older team members take a bus and often sleep in some buildings located in New Territories.



Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
The opera is one of the highlights of Hungry Ghost month. The local communities stage street operas in an effort to appease the spirits.

After a Chinese opera performance is over, it is time for removing make up, time for shower, tea and night diner such as congee.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
It is very hot inside the backstage as there is no air circulation. So often performers might open a temporary window to let air coming. Musicians have their own small fan.

Chinese opera troupes are coming from mainland China because the younger generation growing up in Hong Kong cannot speak fluent Teochew (<5%), not even to mention joining opera groups, a hard and low-paying job. Similarly, Hakka and Wai-Tau languages/dialects are also disappearing in the New Territories (Thanks Anthony).

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
Cheung Sha Wan, Lei Cheung Uk estate
Quite a few of these opera troupes are traveling from one Yulan festival to the other around Hong Kong during the Ghost month. Many of them are sleeping in the backstage or under the stage. It is something they used to do in the countryside long time ago in China. Nowadays not any more in China but still in metropolitan Hong Kong!

Performers of Chiu Chow opera help each other and can perform many tasks such as singing, acting, playing some instrument, changing decoration.

Musicians
Musicians
Some musicians provide percussion music for accompanying the stage movements. Two other players perform on cymbal and gong.

It is so hot in the backstage. It looks like a sauna during summer time! While taking pictures, it is better to use some long lens to avoid disturbing the performers in their make up preparation as the backstages are never that big.

Hungry Ghost festival
-- Hungry Ghost festival --
This troupe is performing in Chinese opera house made of concrete and steel poles. No bamboo used.

Troupe owners and performers are normally always friendly. They sometimes share some food and tea. It is always welcome to send digital pictures to them through WeChat application or print copies.




arrow Hungry Ghost Festival Photo Gallery 2 arrow
thumbnail thumbnail thumbnail


comments powered by Disqus


Home > Culture > Chinese Calendar > Hungry Ghost festival
Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
Bottom