Popularise the term 'Zhong Yuan Festival' instead of 'Hungry Ghost'

Residents burn offerings at a HDB block.
Residents burn offerings at a HDB block.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The Zhong Yuan Festival (more commonly called the Hungry Ghost Festival) is one of the three festivals in which the Chinese pay tribute to their ancestors. The other two are the Qing Ming Festival and the Double Ninth Festival (on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month).

Zhong Yuan Festival is what the Taoists know the occasion as; the Buddhists call it Yu Lan Pen Festival.

The festival is also observed in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and other parts of South-east Asia.

Over the years, various adaptations in the name and rituals have developed. But the theme remains similar: to pay tribute to dead ancestors and acquaintances.

Calling the Zhong Yuan Festival the Hungry Ghost Festival is akin to calling our late ancestors and acquaintances ghosts. It is disrespectful and misleading. It also dilutes the original purpose of the festival, and causes uneasiness or fear to many.

Let us popularise the term Zhong Yuan Festival and stop using the disrespectful one.

I hope the Taoist and Buddhist organisations and other relevant authorities and agencies will deliberate on the matter and come up with a decision.

They can also collectively make the festival more meaningful and its rituals more venerable and less polluting to the environment.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Popularise the term 'Zhong Yuan Festival' instead of 'Hungry Ghost''. Print Edition | Subscribe