Zhongyuan Festival in Taiwan

Zhongyuan Festival, also known as Ghost Festival, is a festival and holiday observed by Chinese populations in many countries worldwide.

It is believed that the Gate of Underworld opens every year on the first day of the seventh Chinese lunar month and closes on the first day of the eighth month, and in between these two dates ghosts roam free on Earth seeking food, host bodies and entertainment. For this reason, in Taiwan, the seventh lunar month is also called Ghost Month (鬼月). It roughly coincides with the early August to early September of the Gregorian calendar.

Superstitions abound during Ghost Month. People avoid buying houses, getting married, moving, surgery, swimming and traveling during this month. Food, live shows, incense and ghost money are offered to appease the wandering spirits and keep them occupied so that they do not cause trouble with or bring misfortune to the living.

Even though various activities involving ancestor worship, offering food, burning joss paper and chanting of scriptures take place throughout the whole month, the highlight is Zhongyuan Festival, which occurs on the 15th day of the month, when the series of Ghost Month celebrations come to a climax. Traditionally, Pudu (普渡, universal salvation) is held on this day, when sumptuous feasts are offered, and both Taoists and Buddhists hold ceremonies and perform rituals to relief ghosts from suffering and show them the way to the heavenly realm.

Other popular Zhongyuan activities include Lidenggao (立燈篙, erecting the lantern poles), Qianggu (搶孤, grappling with the wandering ghosts) and Fangshuideng (放水燈, releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water). These activities are held in various towns around Taiwan. Traditionally, they are religious and solemn in nature, but during recent years, local governments have started to collaborate with major temples and local businesses in promoting them as cultural events to boost tourism. Restaurants create menus based on the themes of deities and ghosts, governments hold parades and private businesses organize tours to historical sites and haunted houses.

If you happen to visit Taiwan during this time, Keelung's Laodagong Temple ceremonies and the "Grappling with the Ghosts" festival in Yilan's Toucheng are two of the most popular tourist attractions.