'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

(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.

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.
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)
In this Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 photo, a makeshift theater and altar are set up in front of some high rise buildings during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
In this Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 photo, a makeshift theater and altar are set up in front of some high rise buildings during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
A Chinese opera actress performs at a makeshift theater during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A Chinese opera actress performs at a makeshift theater during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
A perigee moon, also known as a super moon is half covered by cloud during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A perigee moon, also known as a super moon is half covered by cloud during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)
A woman holds a paper talisman written in Chinese words Dispel ghost who died unjustly before she burns during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A woman holds a paper talisman written in Chinese words "Dispel ghost who died unjustly" before she burns during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)
Taoists attend a service at a makeshift alter during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
Taoists attend a service at a makeshift alter during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
Chinese gods are seen at the back stage of a makeshift theater during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
Chinese gods are seen at the back stage of a makeshift theater during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
A woman burns joss sticks near two paper bridges The Golden Bridge and the Silver Bridge which are believed to take the soul to the “Pure Land of the West” and Heaven during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A woman burns joss sticks near two paper bridges "The Golden Bridge and the Silver Bridge" which are believed to take the soul to the “Pure Land of the West” and Heaven during the "Hungry Ghost Festival"...   (Kin Cheung)
An elderly collects counterfeit ancient coins from an altar, which are representing gold coins to ward off evil spirit away during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
An elderly collects counterfeit ancient coins from an altar, which are representing gold coins to ward off evil spirit away during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)
Chinese opera performance is held at a makeshift theater during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
Chinese opera performance is held at a makeshift theater during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
A worshiper burns incense at a makeshift altar during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A worshiper burns incense at a makeshift altar during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
A couple burn paper money or locally known as Hell Money, during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A couple burn paper money or locally known as "Hell Money," during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)
A woman burns incense at a makeshift altar during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A woman burns incense at a makeshift altar during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
The elderly burn paper money or locally known as Hell Money, during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
The elderly burn paper money or locally known as "Hell Money," during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Kin Cheung)
A woman burns incense in front of a paper reproduction of the Ghost King at a makeshift altar during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
A woman burns incense in front of a paper reproduction of the "Ghost King" at a makeshift altar during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong.   (Vincent Yu)
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