Painted Faces and a Blessed Bonfire


September 1, 2013 by bck1402

The seventh month of the Chinese calendar is also known as the Ghost Month, sometime called the Hungry Ghost Festival.  It is believed that the gates of Heaven and Hell open up and the ghosts would roam about freely, often at night. On the Roman calendar, this can take place between August and September.

During this period, there are some performances going on that are meant to entertain the spirits. More common these days are musical shows with one or two performers belting out some popular music. But in some places, they still have the traditional Chinese Opera going on.

A few years ago, I did a similar article like this on the Multiply site (that’s gone now). This year, I observed the events on the last day of the festival, heading out to capture the Chinese Opera and what followed.

I’ve also got some video footage of the performance to share. Please excuse the quality, I did some conversion and compression to take the file size down to something more manageable.
Video One  |  Video Two  |  Video Three

The Chinese Opera is becoming a rarity around here mainly due to the lack of interest from the younger generations. It’s not just with the audience, but in terms of getting new performers as well.

Some of the performers will stay around the stage, which is outdoors. There are hammocks under the stage, but that’s also where they prepare for their shows. The majority of the elaborate costumes are put on back stage.

The musicians are off to the right and to the left of the stage, and there are only three or four of them.

In the last shot of the second gallery, we can see the audience. This was taken on the last day, but there is a VIP section cordoned off right in front of the stage. That’s reserved for the spirits.

Most of these shows, be it the Opera or the Musical performances, are usually funded primarily by the business community, with additional aid from some of the residents. During the two weeks or so when the spirits are out, there are these huge ‘joss stick’ with elaborate designs on them burning away.

On the final night, the ‘joss paper’, sometimes ‘silver paper’ and ‘gold paper’, are bundled into a massive pile, to be burnt as an offering to the spirits.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but it’s what I was told. I couldn’t find a lot of extra info on this.

At midnight, after the final show is done, the prayers began. This is, I was told, to see if the spirits have been satisfied with the shows and the offerings. For the spirits to take the offerings back with them, it has to be burnt.

Once the bonfire gets going, the participants – who have been praying to the spirits – then start tossing these bundles of paper over the fire. If the spirits have been appeased, they would show their gratitude by wafting these pieces of paper high into the night air. The higher the papers go, the more prosperous the returns for the coming year.

After that is done, the participants would go back to the altar and pray for thanks and gratitude. I didn’t stay beyond that (it was already one in the morning), so I didn’t observe the end of it all.  The fire would eventually burn itself out and some cleaning up would commence. After all, this was all done in the middle of a junction. Not many people really see much of this happening unless they’re participating in the prayers. The only evidence is the charred road that would be there for the next few days. That was what got me curious the first time around.

Next year, I’m determined to find an example of the Chinese Puppet Opera.


2 thoughts on “Painted Faces and a Blessed Bonfire

  1. charlypriest says:

    Quite and interesting culture. You didn´t stay? So you don´t know what the spirits where offering you back!

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