Friday, August 23, 2013

This Is Asian Ghost Month

By Asia Pop Culture

Yesterday (Aug. 21, 2013) is the 15th of July in Chinese lunar calendar. This day, according to Chinese tradition, is the Ghost Day (鬼節 or 中元節) when the gates of hell open (七月半鬼門開), and all ghosts ascend to earth to feast and play under the full moon (In lunar calendar, 15th of each month coincides with the full moon.)

On Ghost Day and during Ghost Month (lunar calendar July month), people offer food, burn incense and paper versions of money, clothing, houses to cars for their ancestors and other ghosts. This is to to ensure the ancestors' continued well-being, blessing of the living, and also to appease the other ghosts. During the Ghost Month, people avoid doing things like surgery, buying cars, and going out after dark.

Ghost Festival celebration in Taiwan
Release of Water Lantern in China during Ghost Festival

Throughout Asia, the ghost festival has parallels in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, etc.  This is mostly due to the heavy buddhism (and Taoism) influence in the region with the belief that the dead continue to exist and can influence the fortune of the living.  Ceremonies are usually held in temples to include chanting, praying, releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of ancestors.

There are many folk tales and stories about ghosts in China inspiring a lot of classical Chinese literature.  These stories typically mix good, evil and romance (Yes, Chinese Twilight came many centuries before Breaking Dawn.) For example, The Legend of the White Snake is a beautiful sad love story with numerous adaptations into several major Chinese operas, TV series, and movies (e.g., Jet Li starred in the 2011 movie The Sorcerer and the White Snake.)

Another famous one is Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, or 聊齋誌異, written by Pu Songling during the early Qing Dynasty.  The book is a collection of 500 ghost and supernatural tales.  However, Pu actually used ghosts and the supernatural as metaphors to illustrate the corruption and unjust in society and government he saw during his time.

Just like The Legend of White Snake, many stories from Pu's book have also been made into movies, TV series.  The MV below is from one of such adaptations: A Chinese Ghost Story, an 1987 Hong Kong movie starring Leslie Cheung (張國榮, who passed away way too early and sudden at the age of 46 in 2003).

(My sincere wish in the Ghost Month that my parents find peace and happiness wherever they are right now.)