'Hungry Ghosts' Roam Hong Kong
Festival involves appeasing ghosts with everything from food to iPhones
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 25, 2014 12:40 PM CDT
Updated Aug 25, 2014 1:50 PM CDT
A shadow of a woman is cast near a stair as she burns paper money or locally known as "Hell Money," during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)

(Newser) – Countless hungry and restless ghosts are roaming Hong Kong, and the world, to visit their living descendants, at least according to Chinese convention. In traditional Chinese belief, the seventh month of the lunar year is reserved for the Hungry Ghost festival, or Yu Lan , a raucous celebration marked by feasts and music. This year the festival began Aug. 10. According to folklore, the ghosts who wander the physical world are ravenous and envious after dying without descendants or because they were not venerated by relatives who are still alive. The hungry spirits need to be appeased, so ethnic Chinese around the world offer prayers to their deceased relatives along with sticks of joss, or incense.

They also burn mock currency known as "hell money" and other paper copies of material wealth such as TV sets, mobile phones, and even iPads and iPhones, which the ghosts use when they return to the underworld. Neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts, with the front rows of seats always empty—reserved for the ghosts. The shows are accompanied by extravagant feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice, and fruit. The offerings are made in the hope that the spirits will help them find good jobs, earn good grades, or even win the lottery. The festival peaks on the 15th day of the lunar month—the most auspicious—when families offer cooked food to the ghosts.