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Even as the faithful offer prayers, put on the most spectacular getai shows, and organise lavish spreads to appease wandering souls during the Hungry Ghost Festival, many go through the rites of this Chinese tradition without knowing why the rituals are carried out.
But these rituals can be linked back to early Chinese civilisations, such as the Han Dynasty, a period when Chinese culture and society flourished as emperors created terracotta warriors modelled after their own armies to attend and protect them in the afterlife.
While the early Chinese believed in life after death, they also had a slightly different concept of the dead from modern Chinese today, and the "good brothers" that we often refer to now are not always what they seemed to be in the past.
Professor Lo Yuet Keung, Associate Professor at the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore pointed out that even though there has always been a universal belief in the human soul, the early Chinese believed that human beings had "dual souls".
The "dual souls" consisted of "po", referring to the intellectual power and mental faculties of a person, and "hun", the human emotions and feelings and source of consciousness.
This dual concept later evolved into a single entity after the introduction of Buddhism into China, and what subsequently came to be known as 'shen', or spirit.
When a person loses his 'po', his behaviour becomes erratic and his reasoning power and judgment suffers, eventually resulting in his death.
Professor Lo explained: "When a person dies a violent death or with grievances, his 'hun' may linger on to cause trouble. "
"The 'hun' then needs to be appeased with appropriate sacrifices."
The idea that a person's 'hun' can remain among the living to cause mischief has contributed to the popularity of the Hungry Ghost Festival, even until today.
"The belief in a unitary soul that could survive death into a new life through reincarnation continues until today in many Chinese communities over the world.
"This is one of the reasons why the Ghost Festival became popular in China in the first place," he added.
The belief that souls linger on after death also led to the early Chinese attempting to summon a deceased person's soul for ancestor worship.
"A spiritual tablet would be set up for him in the family shrine so that if and when a deceased's soul came back, it could dwell within the tablet.
"His family would pay sacrifices to the tablets in the shrine periodically and this is an important part of what we call ancestor worship," Prof Lo said.
10 do's and don'ts during the Hungry Ghost Festival
For the superstitious who are wary of encountering the "good brothers", here is a list of do's and don'ts compiled by AsiaOne to make sure you do not run the risk of bumping into them:
1) Don't step on roadside offerings
The offerings are laid out for a reason; to appease the hungry ghosts. No one likes it if someone else steps on their food.
2) Leave the front row empty during 7th month performances
Don't infringe on the spaces left empty for the "good brothers" during "getais"! The superstitious believe that the front row seats with the best views are left empty for the wandering spirits to enjoy the singing and dancing performances.
3) Don't stay out too late or wander around alone in deserted, unfamiliar places at night
Some believe that this month is a bad time to be out and about at the early hours of the day, especially in unfamiliar, deserted places because of the presence of spirits.
4) Don't let anyone pat you on the shoulder, or turn around when someone calls your name
A sudden pat on the shoulder, or an unfamiliar voice calling your name, could be a spirit playing ghostly tricks. Turning around when either happens may result in the person being possessed.
5) Don't wear red or black
The "good brothers" are attracted to these colours. Wear other colours instead.
6) Don't tell ghost stories
Ah, the favourite pastime of teenagers in holiday chalets or army boys whiling away time in their barracks. Beliefs have it that talking about ghosts and spirits will instead attract them to you. Legend has it that they will sit along side you and listen while you talk about them.
7) Avoid travelling by plane, bus or boat
The superstitious believe that bad luck may fall upon travellers who take the plane or other forms of transport, resulting in accidents.
8) Avoid swimming, camping trips or jungle trekking
Some believe that vengeful spirits who lost their lives, or just being plain mischievous, will cause drowning accidents or physical injuries.
9) Don't open new businesses or move into new homes
Superstitious businessmen believe that new businesses or ventures started this month may face bad luck in business dealings. Families moving into new homes may also face bad luck.
10) Knock on the door or say "Excuse me" before entering hotel rooms
In the event that you really need to be staying in a hotel during this month, knock politely on the door or say "excuse me" before entering the hotel room.
By Paul Lim