The other day as I was waiting to get my bike fixed (a cyclist ran into me when I was stationary! That just about sums up the roads here) my girlfriend and I took a walk around to kill some time. I noticed that there were groups of people on the side of the street burning what looked like money in bins.
I’ve seen this a few times, it normally happens in the mid – late evening, and I’d never really known what it was about.
Turns out that it’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. People here buy fake paper money, or Joss Paper, and burn it as an offering to loved ones who have passed away. It happens sporadically throughout the year, sometimes to mark the anniversary of a death or other date with special meaning to the individual, and sometimes for particular festivals. This week there have been more people than usual burning Joss Paper. That’s because it was 鬼节 (Ghost festival).
During Ghost Festival it is said that ghosts will roam the earth looking for entertainment and food. On this festival the offering is not just for relatives who have passed on, but to those ghosts whose relatives have forgotten to give them offerings. People do this so that wandering, offering-less ghosts won’t bother them or their families (Chinese people are very superstitious). To appease these wandering spectres Joss Paper is burned, as it is believed that the money can be used by ghosts to buy tasty ghost treats and beverages. Cue terrible jokes about Dreaded Wheat etc.
People tend to choose crossroads to burn money because it increases the likelihood of their offering being found: at crossroads there are four routes from which the offerings can be accessed.
As wealth in China has become more and more prevalent, gross parodies of the original offerings have been sold, including things such as Joss Paper MP3 players, Prostitutes and Viagra. It must suck to be a ghost who can’t get it up!
Anyway, just a little snippet into this interesting bit of culture