Metalocus: The Unlock of the gate of Hell. The Hungry ghost festival (Yu Lan)

Source: Metalocus | Published: 18 Aug 2015

Metalocus: The Unlock of the gate of Hell. The Hungry ghost festival (Yu Lan)

Photography © Anthony Kwan/Getty Images for Hong Kong Images.
The Hungry Ghost (Yu Lan) festival, which had been inscribed on to China’s third national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011. The seventh month in the lunar calendar is when restless spirits roam the earth when the gate of Hell opened on 1 day of the seventh month.

Many Chinese people make efforts to appease these transient ghosts, while ‘feeding’ their own ancestors. While the festival’s origins are not unlike those of Halloween in Europe, it is also intrinsically linked to the Chinese practice of ancestor worship. Many people tending roadside fires and burning faux money and other offerings for ghosts and ancestors to use in the afterlife. Food is also left out to sate the appetite of the hungry ghosts.

One of the main highlights of the festival is the Chinese operas, usually held on temporary bamboo stages, performed to praise the charitable and pious deeds of the deities.

“Around 1.2 million people originating from Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) in China’s Guangdong province live in Hong Kong. During the Hungry Ghost Festival, they organise their own Yu Lan Ghost Festival, which runs for the entire seventh lunar month. The festival has been held for over 100 years.”

In neighbourhoods across Hong Kong, during this month you’ll see Chiu Chow people occupying parks, piazzas, pitches and other sufficiently spacious places to set up “Yu Lan Ritual” where they offer sacrifices to their ancestors and the hungry ghosts, burning incense and joss paper, distributing free rice, and performing live Chinese operas and Chiu Chow–style dramas for ghosts in need of a bit of entertaining.

Quote from Heritage specialists

“Legend has it, the Chinese Opera in the Yu Lan Ritual is to entertain ghosts, seats should be saved for them, but the truth is the Opera is for the gods enjoyment and seats are saved for the donors who donate money to the Ritual.

People always asked where the safest place is during the ghost festival, you will be surprised, it is the Yu Lan Ritual.

As all the gods are invited to the Ritual, including the King of Hell, who acts like a “police officer”, “monitoring” the whole ritual. So even though ghosts are attending the ritual, they don’t dare to behave badly.”

Said by Mr. Anven Wu, the Director of Sai Kung Yulan Association Limited and The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe).

“The Hungry Ghost festival has a lot of traditions and legends behind which are fascinating. But I think the most vulnerable part of the festival is it truly reflects the core value of Chinese Culture, Worship (by worshipping the gods in the ritual), Filial Piety (by paying tributes to the ancestor) and Compassion (by giving offering to the hungry ghosts.”

Said by Paul Chan, the founder of “Walk in Hong Kong, who organizes “Hungry Ghost Festival Special Tour”.

Dates.- 14 August to 12 September 2015
Venue.- Hong Ning Road Playground No.2, Kwun Tong, Kowloon. Hong Kong, China.