Zhong Yuan Jie (Mid-Year Festival)
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Zhong Yuan Jie, or "Mid-Year Festival", also popularly known as the Hungry Ghost Festival or the Feast for the Wandering Souls, is held on the 7th month of the lunar calendar. On the 15th day of the 7th month, families pay respects to their deceased relatives and visit their graves often with much feasting as if their dead relations still were with them.
It is believed that during this time, the souls of the unborn and that of departed ancestors and friends are released from Purgatory to wander the earth for 30 days. The souls of the dead ignored by relatives may do acts of mischief, so steps must be taken to appease the spirits before they go on a rampage. Hell money, paper offerings and joss sticks are burnt to see to their material needs; food is offered so that the souls do not go hungry and thus less likely to wreak havoc. Neighbourhood celebration dinners or zhong yuan (popularly known as getai) are held on the feast day, with auctions of goods, operas and song performances being part of the festivities. The Buddhists and the Taoists have different ways of celebrating the feast. As ghosts are believed to dominate events, no auspicious activities such as weddings and business launches are held during this period.
The story of Mu Lian, who tried to save his mother from Hell, is connected to this festival. Mu Lian was reputedly a favourite disciple of Buddha. However his mother had broken her vow of abstention from meat-eating and was cursed to suffer the afflictions of hungry ghosts in Purgatory. Although filial Mu Lian offered rice to his dead mother, hungry ghosts would consume it before she could eat it. In anguish, Mu Lian appealed to Buddha for help. Buddha pointed out that only the monks of the Ten Directions could save her. They had to prepare all kinds of food and items and offer them to the ancestors of the past seven generations on the 15th day of the 7th month. Thereafter, Mu Lian's mother was delivered from her torments.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.