Yesterday was the first day of the lunar 7th month and the acrid smell of burning is thick in the air. Since the night before, Chinese families had started burning offerings to the hungry ghosts and ancestral spirits who are, according to Chinese beliefs, set free to roam the earth seeking food and entertainment during this month. Our dog has been warned not to sprinkle his liquid gold over any offerings laid out on the ground, or under a tree, as a sign of respect.
There is a sense that such traditions and practices have been carried out since time immemorial, but like everything in life, these practices evolve with with social changes. Just a glance at the paper offering stores and one can see how up to date the manufacturers are with their wares. In addition to the usual paper money, paper ingots and red candles, one can purchase paper ipads, mobile phones, credit cards so that one’s ancestors are not lagging behind trends.
This also reminded me about the research we did some time ago on the getai or live stage shows that are held throughout the island during this month. The predecessor of the getai were Chinese street operas, more popularly known as wayang, which are far less commonly seen that they were 50 years ago. The getai has evolved from simple song and dance performances to glitzy productions with LED lights, raunchy comedy and their own stars. If you’re interested in more detail, read the full article here.
In addition to the getais – staged to entertain ghosts and humans – are the zhong yuan hui dinner and auctions. At these dinners, business associations make offerings to the spiris, and conduct auctions to sell off a mixture of auspicious and practical items to raise money for the following year’s event. There’s a lively atmosphere especially as the night wears on, and guests become increasingly uninhibited due to beer and other alcohol served. Bidding goes high especially for hard liquor such as Martell XO and Cordon Bleu, as well as items such the auspicious “black gold” (a block of charcoal)which promises the successful bidder good luck for the year. Over the years, the number of such dinner/auctions has fallen with the drop in business associations and lack of interest from the younger generation to support such events.
While I’m not a fervent Chinese religionist, I’ve always thought of the 7th month and all its activities to be the most intriguing and interesting in the Chinese calendar. While I do believe that practices naturally evolve to suit their environment, I do hope that enough of the original flavor is retained to give our younger generation a sense of this festival and the unique Chinese perspective on life and after-life.