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Adam Yuet Chau (University of Cambridge): Feeding and Robbing the Hungry Ghosts (in Taiwan): A Photographic and Ethnographic Essay
Hungry ghosts in the Chinese world are spirits who are not fed and clothed on a regular basis (unlike well-attended deities and ancestors). Many of them undergo punishments in hell for their wrongdoings while alive, not being able to eat anything as food items turn into flames in their mouths. Or they wander around, lurk in dark corners and snatch morceaux of offerings from other people’s ancestral spirits. They are the most pitiable beings in the Chinese religious imagination. In order to relieve them from such a sorry state and to prevent them from causing disturbances, the Chinese have developed an elaborate system of pacifying hungry ghosts, culminating in the rituals and offerings during the so-called Ghost Month (the seventh lunar month). In this presentation I will provide a visual and ethnographic account of two major religious event productions in Taiwan relating to the feeding of the hungry ghosts (and like beings): the Robbing the Hungry Ghosts Festival (搶孤) in Tou-cheng (頭城) and the Righteous Martyrs Festival (義民節) in Hsin-pu (新埔). I will also explain some of the organising principles going into these festivals (e.g., hosting as a ‘cultural form’).
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