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Zhongyuan Folk Festival (Chinese Ghost Festival)

Zhongyuan Festival originates from Chinese Taoism. Anciently, Chinese people annually respectively set January 15 as Shangyuan Festival (also called Lantern Festival), July 15 as Zhongyuan Festival (also called Ghost Festival) and October 15 as Xiayuan Festival. In tenet of Taoism, Shangyuan festival is the time that the heavenly god gives blessing to humankind. Zhongyuan Festival is for assoiling and sacrificing the ghosts of the hell, and Xiayuan Festival is for water god to relieve the dooms. Therefore, ancient people used to hold a variety of rites on Zhongyuan festival to relieve the ghosts or satisfy the needs of ghosts. In southern China, it is called widely Ghost Festival. Generally, on this day, people usually prepare much meat offering to sacrifice in front of their ancestors’ tombs. In this way, it is a little bit similar to Chinese Tomb-Sweeping Day. In ancient days, the local officials used to require the monks and Taoists to hold some special rites to worship or relieve those late soldiers who fell in battles. Besides, on this day, people always burn a great deal of paper-money specially made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead.

Exactly, Zhognyuan festival also called Hungry Ghost Festival or Yu Lan Pen Festival according to the legendary story of Buddhism. It in public is for sacrificing ancestors, and the offering mainly is watermelon, so in this way it is also named Melon Festival. As for why also called Yu Lan Pen Festival, in legend of Buddhism, mother of Mu Lian who was one of ten top students of Sakyamuni fell in the world of hungry ghost, and what she ate would become the blaze suddenly. Mulian had no choice but to turn to Buddha and Buddha asked him to recite Sutra of Yu Lan Pen, and also enjoined to make a Yu Lan Pen to save her mother. In the recent period, people usually offer the melon to sacrifice their ancestors. Anciently, the rite turned to set lanterns on water to sacrifice the isolated soul or soul without families when it was alive and the victims died of accidents, because people thought they should also hang out lanterns to celebrate for the ghosts. On the day July 15th, it is the same full moon as the day of Shangyuan Festival also called Lantern Festival. Humankind and Land are under the influence of Yang, which ghost and water are under the influence of Yin. The darkness and mystery of underworld usually reminds people of the sepulchral hell where the ghosts suffer. So Lanterns on Shangyuan Festival are only hung on land or trees, and lanterns of Zhongyuan Festival are usually flown on the water. This is much too interesting if we think deeply. It is full of humanity.

The custom of sacrificing ancestors at Zhongyuan Festival is widely believed and maintained in northern China, especially in Shandong Province. The offerings except the exquisite food, there are also paper-made clothes and furniture. The dishes of Zhongyuan Festival are usually dumplings and steamed bread. After dinner, people would eat some fruit like apples and pears. Zhongyuan Festival in China is quite special and unique, and in many places, it is only well-known as ghost festival. It is a kind of belief that this world is comprised of Yang world where humankinds live in and Yin world where ghosts live in, so late ancestors and souls living in the underworld or Yin World should be remembered and sacrificed annually and sincerely.

Writer: David from Seeraa International
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