Hungry Ghost Festival

This is the 7th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. In this month, Chinese who are Taoists believe that hungry ghosts from hades are let loose to roam on earth for a month.


Therefore, these hungry ghosts are entertained with Chinese opera stage shows, modern style singing stage show (called koh tai), puppet shows and to cut costs, these hungry ghosts are entertained with Stephen Chow comedy movies!

The above photo is not so clear as I dare not use a flash. I hope you can make out the projector and its rolls of films. So ‘traditional’, don’t you think?

In the foreground of the photo, you can see a red table elevated on two chairs. This is the altar that they make offerings to the heaven. The yellow dangling things are sugar canes tied with some yellow papers.


In this photo, note the top left corner. What you see are huge, paper clothings meant to be burnt for the hungry ghosts. It is rather spooky to see these ‘clothes’ worned by olden Chinese hanging there as horror movies love to depict Chinese ghosts wearing these clothings.

On the table, are foods offered for the hungry ghosts. Rather like a buffet, ya? There is a Chinese belief that you are not to leave anything on the table because the hungry ghosts will devour everything on the table. And urban myth said that a woman who was helping out at the location, left her small baby on the table to sleepl while she carried on with her work.

Upon return, she found the baby lifeless. Yeah, you guessed right. The hungry ghosts mistaken the baby as food.


Here is the gatekeeper of hades. A huge black paper effigy with long tongue hanging out. He has very huge eyes and a mean face. Certainly very frightening, isn’t it? One wouldn’t want to end up in hades and face the gatekeeper ya?

These worshipping are carried out for 15 days and at the end of it, the effigy will be burnt.

If you are curious to know more, don’t hesitate to ask me questions. I have grown up with these culture and through grandma stories, we children had heard enough of spooky tales to know not to mess with the underworld.

**I am a Catholic and am writing this for information purpose only.**

8 Replies to “Hungry Ghost Festival”

  1. Thanks for the pictures. I must admit, I rarely go to these things and know nuts about it so what you just mentioned is very informative for me.

  2. .thanks for the useful information since i am actually doing an assignment about hungry ghost festival .i would like to know where is these pictures taken.mostly which dialect celebrate this festival and in which state??

  3. choon moi – The whole of Penang, regardless of dialects hold these offerings. It is sort of like a thanksgiving for a whole year of safety/health/wealth. Right now, you can find the giant effigy of the god of hades, the opera/stage show in almost every corner in Penang. However, most of the opera are in Teochew. Because the Teochew troops are from Thailand. There are Hokkien and Cantonese troops too by they are phasing out ‘cos most of the performers have very tough life of going from town to town, living with basic comforts, sleeping in hammocks and etc.

    boo – I think the main festivities are concentrated in Penang because most of these hawkers (whom we call ‘siew huan’) contributes financially to the offerings.

  4. […] I had been wondering what our local Penang folks are going to do with the worsening haze because Hungry Ghosts festival is going on full swing here. Every village, small town, pekan and even Gurney Drive have the offerings for Hungry Ghosts. Joss sticks which are about 8-10 feet high are often lined up in rows and the burning of the effigies of the gods of hades usually take place, causing big bon-fire. […]

  5. […] Sorry about the late postings as I seem to have problems posting to Blogger this morning. I finished this post and when I published it, the connection hung on me and I lost all my data. The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is 19 August this year. Usually the Cantonese will offer prayers to the ghosts on the eve before the actual date while the Teochews and Hokkiens celebrate on the night of the festival. A week before the festival date, there will be entertainment shows for the ghosts and the living that range from karaoke sessions, dancing and Chinese opera performances. Paper effigies and altars are also erected under temporary tents for people to pray and worship the ghosts. If you do attend any of these performances, never sit in the front seats as these are always reserved for the ghosts. For more on what the altars and the performances look like, please refer to Lilian from Malaysia Best who has excellent pictures on them. The celebration of this festival is from an amalgamation of beliefs of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and traditional religious teachings. The Taoist believe the soul has a yin element called the kui (devil) and a yang element called the shen (spirit). Upon death, the shen remains within the grave while the kui returns to earth to roam it. The Chinese believe heavily in filial piety which includes worshipping their ancestors’ graves or else calamity with strike the family. If this is neglected, the kui is said to become a hungry ghost that will cause trouble among the living. The Chinese interpret the spirit world as a parallel universe to earth where the spirits enjoy food, money and material items just like we do on earth. Hence to appease these spirits and as a way to pay respect to our ancestors, food is served on altars and paper offerings are burnt to send them over to the spirit world. These buns shaped as mandarin oranges and peaches with chinese lettering are some of the food items offered to the hungry ghosts. Lilian from Malaysia Best has blogged about another type of bun that is also offered to them. […]

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