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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.
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.
There are some red lamps that are installed
at street corners in order to guide wandering ghosts to the altar.
Such red lamps are supposed to help and
guide wandering ghosts to the altars, where offerings are waiting for them.
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!
Huge billboards announce that a Hungry
Ghost festival is going to happen.
This traditional yearly Hungry Ghost
festival is happening in King George V Memorial Park in Yau Ma Tei.
Chinese characters are depicting
details of the coming Hungry Ghost festival event.
Those colorful billboards are lit during
the night and can be seen from far away.
This huge paper door is leading to the
yearly Hungry Ghost festival happening in King George V Memorial Park in Yau Ma Tei.
KING OF GHOSTS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...).
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.
One old lady and her grandson
are burning papers and making offerings to wandering ghosts and ancestors.
In big estate buildings, local
people also burn papers inside big cans in outdoor areas.
TAOIST PRIESTS SHED
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
Inside the Taoist temporary
structure for priests, weird dances were performed to ease ghosts.
Taoist priests are chanting
liturgies and are performing complex rituals.
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.
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.
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.
Smoke climbs upwards to the sky
from the burning incense sticks at temporary tents set up.
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.
Normally the offering done
to the ghosts are done by women. It is part of traditional separation of
duties between men and women.
Inside the gods shed,
behind the offetings, there are three huge objects, the imperial crown,
the belt and the boots.
There is also a very
colorful paper red horse used by the gods beside the gods shed.
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.
This colorful paper horse effigy is a real size representation of the Horse Spirits
during Hungry Ghost festival.
Offerings are placed in front of the paper red horse effigy. Salad is given to him.
This paper horse effigy is placed under a basketball hoop as Hungry Ghost festivals are often taking
place in local parks or playgrounds.