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Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Burning Down The House: Scenes from the Hungry Ghost Festival in Ganzhou, China

Near Jianchun Gate (建春门) in Ganzhou


Last Thursday next to the ancient city wall alongside the Gong River (贡水) in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, I noticed a number of people burning ghost money — imitation paper currency.

people burning ghost money in Ganzhou

people burning ghost money near the Donghe Bridge in Ganzhou
Near Donghe Bridge (东河大桥)


Thursday was the first of three days in Ganzhou when people conducted rituals for Saturday's Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节), also known in English as the Ghost Festival, the Yulan Festival, and Zhongyuan Jie. The holiday is similar to the Qingming Festival in terms of burning paper replicas to send items to people in the afterlife. The National Library of Singapore has a useful overview of the holiday in general while also pointing out some details specific to Singapore and other countries while also covering some differences between Taoist and Buddhist beliefs regarding the holiday. Baidu Baike has an article (Chinese) detailing some of the specific practices in various parts of China.

On Saturday, while walking down Xijiao Road (西郊路) I noticed a lot of smoke in the distance. And that is how I stumbled upon one of the multiple sites the local government had established for the burning rituals.


city government approved site for burning offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Ganzhou


people making offerings for the Hungry Ghost Festival in Ganzhou


The video below captures more of the living reaching out to spirits there.



At a location next to the old city wall bordering the Zhang River (章水), I came across another sanctioned site — this one more scenic.

people making offerings for the Hungry Ghost Festival near Xijin gate in Ganzhou
Near Xijin Gate (西津门)


While there, I saw some people preparing to send a house, car, and other items to the spirit world.

paper house and car replicas for burning


Soon flames began engulfing the house.

paper house burning for the Hungry Ghost Festival


The video below captures later stages of the house's journey and also some of the other offerings occurring in the near vicinity.



One advantage Saturday provided was a rare break from the recent hot weather. One disadvantage Saturday provided was occasional strong winds. The video below was taken later at the same area and captures how ghost money was flying about, sometimes while burning, at times. I didn't see anybody get hurt, but it was definitely worth staying alert.



During the earlier evening I came across another approved site, this one at an area where buildings had been demolished between Xijin Road (西津路) and Xingan South Road (新赣南路).

vacant lot where buildings had been demolished being used for religious offerings


I also saw offerings being made or signs of recent offerings on a smaller scale at a number of locations which didn't appear to have been designated by the city. All of the government approved sites I came across had government employees, easily identifiable with their red hats, keeping an eye on things. The site near Xijin Gate also had a few chengguan, urban management officers, around. There were frequent sounds of firecrackers around the city, but I only heard a single one go off at the approved sites. Apparently since it was isolated explosion — unusual —a chengguan who clearly wasn't happy about it didn't intervene beyond sharing a stern word.

In my personal experience, I have never before seen so many people observing the holiday elsewhere in China. I'm not sure whether that speaks more to luck or regional variations in the holiday's observance, though I suspect the latter has a significant role. In any case, there was a lot of fire in Ganzhou during the holiday and possibly many pleased ghosts as well.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Riverside Can in Ganzhou

I'm not yet finished with what I had originally hoped to post today. Uploading three large video files through a VPN across the Great Firewall added to the challenge, but I'm happy to say at least that part has been successfully completed. For now, below is a related photo taken next to the Gong River which serves as a bit of a teaser.

two traditional Chinese red candles burning in a can next to the river


Much more burning is on the way — most of it somewhat controlled.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Knockoffs, Cars, and an Electric Chair: Paper Replicas to Burn for the Qingming Festival

store selling paper replicas of items to burn for the Qingming Festival
Shop in Jiangmen, Guangdong, selling paper replicas to burn for the spirit world


Last year in Guangzhou during the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, I saw many people spend at least part of the day doing something not part of the spiritual side of the day, such as spending time at pedestrian shopping street. But it still wasn't hard to find people observing the holiday, such as a family burning paper replicas of iPhones, clothing, money, and other objects to send to their ancestors in the afterlife — part of a common Qingming tradition, as is visiting grave sites.

Like in Guangzhou, today on the holiday's return I saw many people in Jiangmen simply enjoying the day off or working as usual. I didn't happen to stumble upon any burnings. And I didn't visit any graveyards. But this afternoon I did pass one shop selling paper replicas to burn. They may have already sold out of some items, but they still had a varied selection.

As I saw in Guangzhou, there was clothing for sale. And of course there was plenty of the traditional ghost money.

ghost money and paper replicas of suits


Shoes were available as well.

paper shoes


You were in luck if you wanted to send shoes with a matching knockoff "Louiis Vuitton" bag.

paper "Louiis Vuitton" bags


There were also combo packs which included all-important smartphones.

boxes contain a variety of paper replicas including smartphones and jewelry


And a collection of cars was available.

paper replicas of cars


paper replicas of cars for the Qingming Festival


The cars depict people inside, which raises the question of whether burning them sends both the car and the people to the spirit world. I would honestly be curious to hear experts' views on this.

While there are other ways people remember and honor their ancestors during the Qingming Festival, the practice of burning paper replicas presents an intriguing intersection of spiritualism, materialism, and pragmatism. Whatever the ultimate result of the offerings, at the very least they express that one hasn't forgotten the departed and can help keep some memories alive.

Finally, there was one item for sale that left me briefly puzzled, because at first I wasn't sure what it was. And then I realized . . .

paper replicas of a massage armchair


Who in the spirit world wouldn't want to relax in a deluxe massage chair?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lunar New Year Lions in Jiangmen

During the Lunar New Year holiday in China many shops & restaurants close and many red signs with messages of good luck appear. Some places remain open, though, or reopen before the end of the holiday period. For those that do, they may experience a common Chinese tradition.

Today on Zhendong Road in Jiangmen I spotted (well, first heard from afar) a lion dance troupe.

Lion dance troupe at a shop in Jiangmen


After bringing some good luck and fortune to a shop in exchange for a red envelope stuffed with cash, the lion dance troupe headed on.

Lion dance troupe on a street in Jiangmen


Very quickly they found another shop desiring their services.

Lion dance troupe at a shop in Jiangmen


The action continued on Diaotai Road less than a block away from where I saw xiangqi being played two days ago.

Lion dance troupe at a shop in Jiangmen


Lion dance troupe at a shop in Jiangmen


Then after visiting a few shops down Xinshi Road . . .

Lion dance troupe on Xinshi Road in Jiangmen


. . . they started working their way down Taiping Road.

Lion dance troupe at a shop in Jiangmen


It wasn't long until they were bringing fortune to a familiar restaurant.

Lion dance troupe at a noodle restaurant in Jiangmen


And off they went while I enjoyed a meal across the street at a restaurant which had recently reopened after a holiday break. They didn't desire any lion dancing, but that was fine to me.

I had already been granted a brief personal performance.

Chinese lion in Jiangmen

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Guidance at Two Temples in Taipei

Learning . . .

Group of young students in front of Ling-Xing Gate at the Taipei Confucius Temple
Ling-Xing Gate at the Taipei Confucius Temple


and directions . . .

Man wearing "Taipei Baoan Temple" pointing a man in the right direction
Taipei Baoan Temple


weren't in short supply today at two nearby historic temples in Taipei.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Watching Out for Snakes in Taipei

When today at the edge of the Shuangxi Riverside Park in Taipei I saw a sign warning of snakes, admittedly I doubted any would cause me a problem.

"Watch Out for Snakes" sign in Shilin, Taipei


But later at the nearby Huiji Temple (惠濟宮) I realized perhaps I got lucky.

stone carving of scene of three men fleeing a very large snake in a tree


Consider yourself warned.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Falun Gong Brings Out the Drums in Taipei

"Lively" may not be the best choice for describing "Organ Harvesting" demonstrations by Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, at the Ximending shopping district in Taipei. But I would feel much safer using the word to describe something else Falun Gong does at Ximending.

Falun Gong adherents playing drums at Ximending in Taipei


One intended message of the drum performance appeared to be expressed on a sign behind them with the familiar message "Falun Dafa Is Good". This is partly to respond to accusations from China that Falun Gong is evil.

Like the claims of organ harvesting, drum performances by Falun Gong adherents are nothing new. One website "dedicated to reporting on the Falun Gong community worldwide" shares examples from places as far away as Philadelphia and Melbourne.

But you won't find them drumming in mainland China.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

Shengming Temple in Taiwan

I had something else planned for here today. Planned. But instead of that, here are two photos of Shengming Temple (聖眀宫) in Jiufen, a historic town on the oceanside mountains of eastern New Taipei City:

Shengming Temple (聖眀宫) in Jiufen, New Taipei City



Shengming Temple (聖眀宫) in Jiufen, New Taipei City

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Time of Change and Digging at the Gude Temple in Wuhan

Even after visiting hundreds of Buddhist temples in China, the Gude Temple in Wuhan can catch you by surprise. According to a photo gallery featuring the temple on the Hubei Provincial People’s Government's website:
It was built in the 3rd year of Emperor Guangxu (1877) in the Qing Dynasty.

The present Great Buddhist Hall was built in 1921 and later was expanded into Gude Temple, which covers an area of 20000 square meters and has a floor space of 3600 square meters.

The Gude Temple was built according to style of the Alantuo Temple in Myanmar in an erratic combination of all thinkable architectural styles and traditions, being unique in construction of Buddhist temples in China’s hinterland.
I wouldn't describe the location as being in China's hinterland, but I agree the architecture is unlike any other temple I have seen in China. My recent visit was made all the more special thanks to work affecting much of the temple's grounds — reminiscent of the construction I walked through when I visited the Changchun Taoist Temple in Wuhan six years ago.

Below are some scenes which feature some of the change now occurring at Gude Temple as visitors still make their way around. The temple is easily reachable by going to Toudao Street Station on the Wuhan Metro and then walking down Gudesi Road. But that might not work in the not-too-distant future. Many of the areas near the temple are changing to a greater degree.


excavator moving a tree at Gudesi Temple



excavator moving a tree at Gudesi Temple



monk and workers at Gudesi Temple in Wuhan



excavator and truck at Gudesi Temple



excavator at Gudesi Temple



excavator at Gude Temple



excavator at Gude Temple



Gude Temple (古德寺) in Wuhan

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Burning with Spirit During Qingming in Guangzhou

Today on an old street in Guangzhou some iPhones, watches, and shoes burned.

paper watches, shoes, and iPhones burn


New clothing was added to the fire.

boxes with paper shirts, ties, and suits jacket burn


And more items, such as money and cigarettes, were added.

family burning paper replicas of items during Qingming


And the fire burned on.

paper replicas of various items burning


Eventually, all that was left of the items was a pile of ash.

ash on road


Water fully put out the burning.

boy throwing water onto smoking ash


And there was a quick cleanup of what remained.

woman cleaning up ashes with broom and dustbin


Had the family needed more to burn, a shop just a short walk away offered plenty of options.

shop selling paper replicas of various items


shop selling paper replicas of various items


paper clothing for sale


paper spirit money for sale


paper replicas of various items for sale


All of the items were paper replicas — part of a tradition of sending needed items to ancestors in the afterlife. Today was Qingming, Tomb-Sweeping Day, and many similar offering were made elsewhere in Guangzhou and the rest of China. Even if your beliefs differ, watching the burnings can feel cathartic.