China's Ghost Festival - Return of the dead

Updated: 09 Sep 2009
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The religious ceremony "Pudu" which means "universal salvation" has existed in Minnan (South of Fujian) areas for many years. It is a traditional ritual held in the China's Ghost Festival which falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. During the entire month of July, ghosts can move about in the living world.
Open the road
The folk belief governing this ceremony is that people who didn't die a natural death would become wondering ghosts. Pudu is considered as the best way to satisfy them and dismiss them.
From the beginning of the 7th lunar month, specially made lanterns are hung outside each house to help the dead to find their way home. Those lanterns will burn away all month, until closing the 'road' at the end of this month.
The ghosts in the netherworld can go to the living world along the 'road' to see their relatives. As they are expected to be hungry after their long journey, food is laid out for them. And the rest of food is given to the wondering ghosts after entertaining forefathers.
Pudu Festival
On Pudu Festival, besides preparing food, each family also burns joss papers for ghosts, supplying them money and clothing. After the ceremony, people make feasts and invite as many people as they can; no matter wether they are strangers or relatives. Troupes are also invited for entertainment.
Close the road
People burn the lanterns and joss papers when the 'road' is closed
At the end ofthe 7th lunar month, it is time for the ghosts to go back to the netherworld. Ksitigarbha Buddha, whose birthday is on July 30th, is regarded as the God of netherworld who can escort the ghosts from the living world.
As the wondering ghosts will go back soon, people prepare many foods as their last dinner to satisfy them. Therefore, people set up a raised structure on which gifts or sacrifices to the ghosts are made.
The ceremony starts in with sacred temple music. Monks and Taoists chant scriptures on their seat and then walk up to the altar and throw foods to the ghosts all around for three times.
Release water lanterns


In Chinese folklore, ghosts who must go back will hide in the water and find their way to the netherworld guided by the water lanterns.
Before the water lanterns are released, monks and Taoists chant scriptures on the shore to release souls from suffering.
The main water lanterns are made of colorful papers and designed as lotuses with oil lamps and joss papers on them. Other water lanterns are small pottery bowls carrying little candles.

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