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18 funky things Chinese people burn for their ancestors during Hungry Ghost festival

We’re not gonna lie, we waited for the main Ghost Day (September 2nd) to end before posting this cause we didn’t want any bad ju-ju coming after us. You know, JUST in case.

So the Hungry Ghost Festival is a (mostly) Chinese belief that ghosts and spirits of deceased ancestors are released to the living world to visit their kin. It takes place over a month following the Chinese Lunar Calendar so it sorta varies a little bit from year to year. This year’s festival started August 9th and will be ending on September 16th (Source: My grandmother).

If there’s one thing you might have noticed about traditional Chinese beliefs, it’s that they really like burning stuff.

Uhh… you’re doing it wrong

In the case of the Hungry Ghost Festival, it is believed that the souls of the dead would need essential supplies for the afterlife so they burn “Hell notes” and gold ingots (made of paper la) to ensure they won’t come back to ask you for money (Source: My grandmother). But the changing of times and general Chinese ingenuity/kiasuness has created a whole sub industry of creativity – ranging from cheap printed boxes to expensive hand-crafted palaces.

We paid a visit to some of these shops to see what’s the hottest products for the afterlife now, and even to a factory where they make these paper effigies to find out a little more about the craftsmanship behind them. And yeah, “hottest” products, because we, you know, burn them.

If you’re getting the feeling that you’ve read this article before, it’s because we originally published this a few years back. However, this writer recently accompanied his dad to Soon Hing Trading in SS2 to buy some ancestral care packages; and found that the people making this stuff are really updated on trendy stuff, which deserves some updates (witty comments added by CILISOS).


1. Tea Dead and Char Time

Ah ma probably wondering what happened to her Chinese tea


2. So cute until can die…..oh wait.

In the earlier version of this article, my first stop was to Chop Lian Chong Hup Kee in Ampang, where we asked them to show us their most popular items…


3. So mach Engrish


So much copyright infringement avoids.

4. Back in my day we played with sticks and our imagination!


We couldn’t help but notice that there’s a two-way radio in there. Who are they going to communicate with? o_0


5. When you wanna be all classy and eat “Western meal”


6. Kung-kung  want iPad also


This one come with free case….


…but maybe kung-kung like to customize his homescreen. How?


Problem: solved.


7. If it’s running Windows 8, sure your ancestors come back to haunt you wan.


8. Because you can be obnoxious in the afterlife oso


9. Essential supplies for every travel trip


With gambling set because……Chinese people -_-


Evidently afterlife also got mosquito


This is probably the premium set 🙂


How a UM scientist saved the world by noticing 100+ deaths in N Sembilan were all Chinese

10. ASTRO B.yond? More like ASTOL Beyond the graaaaaaveeee


And yes, those are 3-D glasses. Funny enough, no Netflix subscription cards

After I was done with the more commercial stuff, I picked up my friend/Cantonese translator Freddy and went over to Hoe Heng Joss Papers in Jinjang where the craftsman, Vincent, was nice enough to give me a tour of their factory. He specifically mentioned that he did not want to be photographed, and Freddy and I thought it might be a job-related restriction; if you know what we mean. Walking in, we were greeted by frames of effigies in various stages of completion, such as this bamboo frame: IMG_20140825_173213

11. We don’t know why this is there. We didn’t ask


12. Don’t tell me afterlife also got traffic jam???



Each license plate is unique so kung kung won’t end up accidentally driving off with someone else’s car


Spare tires.


For those who prefer classic love vans.


Note the road tax sticker and the chauffeur.


Custom-made VW Beetle. It was too far back to reach, so this is the best picture we could get.


13. I’m on a boat!


Used to transport souls back to the nether realm


14. Standard netherworld housing


Singaporeans see sure jealous.


15. Should probably not make a joke about this

These are the Heibai Wuchang, or the “Black and White Guards of Impermanence,” who bring spirits to the nether realm. Their faces are covered up till the point they’re ready to be used. IMG_20140825_174120 IMG_20140825_174234

16. Should probably not make a joke about this also.

These are the Niu Tou Ma Mianliterally translated as “Ox-Head and Horse Face.” Like the Black and White Guards above, theyalso bring spirits back to the nether realm.

IMG_20140825_174126 IMG_20140825_174209

17. Vincent’s pride

When we asked what was the most special thing he’d made, Vincent brought us to this Heavenly Palace Stand which he has been personally working on (no one else at the factory has the skill, he says). He also points out that it’s only halfway done, to be finished by November. It’s completely made of paper (no bamboo frame) and incorporates lights. IMG_20140825_173604


Those round globes are light bulbs.


18. We really thought this was an actual bicycle


Admit it, you thought so too.

Over dinner with my driver, Freddy (I belanja), we discussed our surprise at how accommodating these people are in entertaining requests to visit their premises and snap photos. We expected there to be strict protocol and a whole lot of pantang larang involved, but nope.

As it turns out, the greatest barrier to this assignment was my laughable attempt at speaking Chinese dialect. They were friendly and more than willing to answer any questions that we had. And we had a whole lot of questions. We didn’t know, for instance, why the more human effigies were kept locked in a different room in the warehouse.

We also didn’t know why Vincent didn’t want to be photographed, and if there were any other protocols that had to be followed in their line of business. Unfortunately time constraints kept us from exploring this further, but we really wouldn’t mind finding more about this part of Chinese custom.

Let us know in the poll or comments section below if you’re interested in reading more about this.

CILISOS would like to thank the following companies for their time and assistance:

Chop Lian Chong Hup Kee Sdn. Bhd.

127, Jalan Besar Ampang, 68000 Ampang, Selangor.



Standard Casket Parlour Services

G15, Jalan 3/115C, Taman Kuchai Jaya, 58200 Kuala Lumpur



Hoe Heng Joss Papers Sdn. Bhd.

3480, Jalan Garden Jinjang Utara, 52000 Kepong, Kuala Lumpur


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