Thursday, October 4, 2007
How to Feed a Hungry Ghost
In the past decade, some of the most successful horror films in America have been based on Asian movies and ghost stories. (The Ring, The Grudge, and The Eye to name a few.) There's a good reason for this. Most Asian cultures, including the Chinese, take ghosts very seriously, and the existence of spirits is simply taken for granted by much of the population. (By comparison, less than half of Americans claim to believe in ghosts.)
Though Chinese ghosts come in a remarkable variety of shapes and sizes, the most common image of a spirit is the one shown above--a pale young woman dressed in white, with long black hair hiding her face from view. (The photo is from the movie The Grudge.) So simple, so creepy.
Each year in late summer, China celebrates the Ghost Festival. In Chinese tradition, it is said that on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, the dead return to pay their relatives a visit. It's the living's job to make sure the spirits have a good time. Offerings and incense are burned and food is left at altars to appease what are known as Hungry Ghosts. These are the spirits of people who've died traumatic deaths or whose families did not provide them with supplies for the afterworld.
Should a Hungry Ghost be left uncared for, its revenge can be terrifying, as Oona Wong discovers in The Empress's Tomb.
Below: A woman burns "Ghost Money" in the hopes that her ancestors receive it in the afterworld and don't return to haunt her.