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Ghost Festival or Zhongyuan Festival — Worshipping of the Deceased

River lanterns on Ghost Festival
Lotus Shaped Water Lanterns Floating on River

Lotus Shaped Water Lanterns Floating on River, Photo by Dongmaiying.

Ghost Festivals in China


There are three significant Ghost Festivals observed in China annually, each with its unique cultural and religious significance: 



  • Zhongyuan Festival, also known as Ghost Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, or Yulan Festival, falls on the 15th of July in the Traditional Chinese Calendar and is observed to commemorate the deceased.


  • Winter Clothes Festival on the 1st of October of the Chinese Traditional Calendar, to send winter clothes to the deceased in the other world. 

Which Ghost Festival is the Most Important One


The most renowned Ghost Festival in China is the Zhongyuan Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival or Yulan Festival, celebrated on the 15th of July in the Traditional Chinese Calendar


This day is believed to be the time when the gate on the other side would open, allowing ghosts to visit the earth. 


Therefore, this is a festival to worship and commemorate deceased ones.

Hungry Ghost Festival Origin


In ancient China, July in the Traditional Chinese Calendar was harvest month.


People worship deities and ancestors with newly harvested crops to show respect and gratitude and pray for their blessings. 


Until the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 — 220), Taoism Religion was formed, Buddhism was introduced, and more ceremonies and meanings were added in July of the Chinese Calendar.

Part of Murals of Taoism Deities on the Walls inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province

Part of Murals of Taoism Deities on Walls inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province

Taoism Religion

The name Zhongyuan Festival is from the Taoism Religion that believed the gate on the other side would open in the middle of July. 


On this day, ghosts with descendants would return to their families and check on their loved ones.


For those homeless deceased who have no family, Taoists would hold grand ceremonies in temples to comfort and pray for those lost with no family.



Yulan Festival is the name of Buddhism that focuses on expiating, praying, relieving souls, and providing food for hungry ghosts. 

Customs, Traditions, and Activities of Hungry Ghost Festival


  • Burn spirit money and paper-made utensils, such as paper clothes, houses, mobile phones, etc., on the grave, along rivers, or at intersections.

While doing it along rivers and intersections, people should draw a circle, write the receiver's name on the ground, and burn everything inside the circle.  

Meanwhile, they also burn some spirit money outside the circle for homeless ghosts nearby to ensure they won't rob anything from their ancestors.  

  • Worship ancestors, and provide them with good food.

  • Taoist and Buddhist temples would hold grand ceremonies on this day; religious or not, all people can attend those rites if they want.  

  • Fang Yan Kou is a ceremony to pray and provide food to hungry ghosts. 

  • Hold sacrifice ceremonies for the earth and crops.

  • Place lanterns on rivers or lakes to illuminate paths for ghosts to visit home and return to the other world.

Lotus Shaped River Lanterns or Water Lanterns

Taboos of the Hungry Ghost Festival in China

  • Do not go out on the 14th, 15th, and 16th of July of the Chinese Traditional Calendar, after sunset.

  • Do not stay up till midnight.

  • Do not burn spirit money in inappropriate places, such as those that are easy to cause a fire.

  • Do not interpolate chopsticks into bowls while eating.

  • Do not swim in or play close to rivers, lakes, sea, and any other water on the fields.

  • Do not pick up any money on the street.

  • Do not take and eat any sacrifice offerings without approval.

  • Do not take photos at night.

  • Do not trample or walk into circles that other people drew for burning spirit money.

  • Do not say disrespectful words about deceased ones and ghosts.

  • If hearing someone calling your name at night, do not immediately turn around and answer.

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