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Hungry Ghosts
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When to pay respects

Strictly speaking, it depends on your dialect group. Hokkiens and Teochew pay respects to roaming spirits on the 1st and 30th of the seventh lunar month while saving the 15th for their ancestors. On the other hand, the Cantonese pay respects to both spirits and ancestors all on the 14th.



Setting it up

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  1. Plant paper flags around the area as a signal to spirits.
  2. Stick a pair of candles into the ground or on food and light them up as a warm welcome.
  3. Open the packaging of your food offerings so the spirits can reach them.


set up
  1. 在祭拜的四周插上中元旗,通知附近的好兄弟前来享用祭品。
  2. 在草地或食物上插上一对蜡烛,以示欢迎。
  3. 把供品摆放好,再打开包装,方便好兄弟享用。


  1. Light three joss sticks and pay respects before sticking them into the ground or into the huat kueh. It is believed that the smoke from the joss stick carries your thoughts and prayers to the spirit.
  2. Any remaining joss stick in the pack can be stuck into the ground surrounding your offerings.


  1. 点上三支香,恭敬地祭拜后插入草地或发糕里。据说,你的念想与祈愿会随着香的烟气传到好兄弟那里。
  2. 把其余的香插入周围的草地里。

Burning Offerings

burning offerings
  1. Write your address on the 'passport'.
  2. Burn the 'passport' first before other offerings to notify surrounding spirits that you are paying your respects.
  3. Do not throw any offerings into the air! Spirits cannot receive anything if you don't burn them.


burning offerings
  1. 在神魂执照上写上住址。
  2. 先焚烧神魂执照,让周围的好兄弟知道你要焚烧祭品。
  3. 不要把祭品抛入空中!没有焚烧过的祭品,好兄弟可是收不到的。

Cleaning Up

cleaning up

It is acceptable to leave your offerings overnight. However you are encouraged to clean up in the morning to keep your community clean. After all, the Zhong Yuan tradition ultimately boils down to respect and kindness.


cleaning up


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The Boos and Dont's of Zhong Yuan

Can anot?

With the notion that spirits are out on the streets, it is no surprise that there are many old wives' tale associated to Zhong Yuan. While many of these don'ts of Zhong Yuan arose from folk hearsay rather than religion, the spirit of being respectful to the dead remains the same.





Picking up or 'disturbing' roadside offerings just as you wouldn't take someone else's food.




Saying disrespectful things about spirits. Actually as a rule of thumb, being disrespectful is usually a bad choice in most situations.




Major milestones like moving house, starting a new business or getting married. Perhaps due to this, the property market is often at its quietest during the Seventh month.




Sitting in the front row of a getai performance. You're taking up a spirit's reserved seat!


观赏歌台表演时, 不要坐在第一排的座位上,那可是留给“好兄弟”的位子!


Staying out too late. You're risking making 'unwanted friends' and paying unexpectedly high cab fares home.



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Is Zhong Yuan a Taoist or Buddhist Festival?

Both! Taoist and and Buddhist traditions have intermingled in Singapore for generations. However, the notion of respect and kindness for neglected spirits remains a common thread between both religions.




According to Taoists...

According to Taoist beliefs, the gates to the underworld are open for the whole of the lunar seventh month. While this seems like the plot of a horror movie, the notion is in fact the opposite. Devotees believe that this period is the best time for humans to help spirits who are suffering.



According to Taoists...

The 15th day of the seventh month is known to devotees as the birthday of 地官大帝 (Diguan Dadi), a deity who rules mortal sins and earth. It is believed that on this day he descends to the mortal realm and pardons the sins of people and spirits. Therefore large offerings are made at temples to attract spirits so that taoist priests could lead them to salvation.



According to Buddhists...

Buddhists know the festival as 盂兰盆节 (Yu Lan Pen JIe) or Ullambana Festival. The festival originated from a story of filial piety known as 目连救母 (Mu Lian Rescues His Mother). It follows Mu Lian's attempt to save his mother who was suffering in hell as a 'hungry ghost' where food turns into ashes before they ever reach her mouth.



According to Buddhists...

According to the legend, Mu Lian seeked Buddha's help and was instructed to make offerings and prayers on the 15th day of the seventh month to earn merits for his mother. This ritual continues amongst the buddhists as an act of fillial piety to ancestors and to alleviate the suffering of spirits.



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Why are the ‘ghosts’ hungry?

According to Chinese folklore in Singapore which has blurred the lines between Taoist and Buddhists traditions, people turn into 'hungry ghosts' in their afterlife either because they do not have descendants to make offerings to them or because they have performed evil deeds when they are alive.



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opera-stage Live Opera
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Learn more about the symbols and stories behind Chinese Opera by tapping the white dots!

生 (Sheng)  Play Button

Sheng refers to male characters.

Common types of sheng include:

武生 (wu sheng) - A martial character like a general

文生 (wen sheng) - A civil character like a scholar

This wen/wu trait can also apply to all other characters.

旦 (Dan)  Play Button

Dan refers to female characters.

Common types of dan include:

花旦 (hua dan) - A young, lively and dainty female character who is not married yet.

闺门旦 (gui men dan) / 青衣 (qing yi dan) - A mature and dignified female character that is usually married.

刀马旦 (dao ma dan) - Literally 'sword and horse' dan, this is the role of a female warrior.

净 (Jing)  Play Button

When you see characters with boldly coloured faces from black and blue to gold and silver, you're probably looking at a jing.

Also known as 花脸 (hua lian) meaning painted face, this role is known for a heavily painted face to represent different traits.

Red - Uprightness and loyalty

Black - Soundness and integrity

Purple - Steadfastness and integrity

Yellow - Impetuousness and boldness

Blue - Resolution and daring

Green - Stubbornness and hotheadedness

Gold and silver - Supernatural beings

丑 (Chou)  Play Button

Meaning clown, this is the comedic role in opera. These characters are often silly and whimsical, winning the hearts of audiences.


Chinese opera is not the same without its clashing cymbals and melodramatic erhu. During a performance, a live band of six to seven musician sets the pacing and mood of the scenes.

Like its characters, Chinese opera's music can also be divided into 文 (wen) meaning civil and 武 (wu) meaning martial. Wen features string and woodwind instruments like erhu while wu features more 'aggressive' percussion instrument like cymbals and drums.

Water Sleeve

Usually worn by characters of a higher social status, these sleeves flow fluidly to display a wide array of emotions.

Horse Whip

Simple props like this horse whip is used to represent the character riding a horse.


Characters can have added characteristics based on age. 小 (xiao) refers to a young character and 老 (lao) refers to an older character.

Older male characters are often seen with beard.

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Shopping for spiritsancestors

Be seen, be heard

Signalling for the spirits to collect their offerings

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幽禄 (You Lu) aka Passport

Burn this first to make an announcement to the spirits that you'll be making your offerings! Remember to write your home address or company's name before burning.

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Paper Flag

A festive greeting! Use these flags to signal to spirits that they are welcome to receive your offerings.

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Joss Sticks (Green/Red)

Send your message to the spirits by lighting a joss stick. Green joss sticks are for spirits and red joss sticks can be used for any occasion.

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Red Candles

These candles invite spirits to your offerings with a warm welcome!

Look good, feel good

Clothing the orphaned spirits

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古衣 (Gu Yi)|更衣 (Geng Yi)
The All-In-One Kit

More than just clothes, this all-in-one standard kit comes with sewing kits, teapots, footwear and even television for both male and female spirits!

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往生衣 (Wang Sheng Yi)
Reincarnation Clothes

For spirits who value function over fashion, these clothes put them on the fast track to reincarnation.

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衣仔 (Yi Zai) | 七彩衣 (Qi Cai Yi)
Paper Clothes

These are the H&M basics of the underworld. Up to seven colours, no frills.

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七彩衣纸 (Qi Cai Yi Zhi) | 尺头 (Chi Tou)
Paper Fabric

For the spirits who enjoy a little DIY, these are offered for them to make their own clothes.

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No matter how high the value of bank notes rise to in the underworld, gold remains one of the most valuable and popular wealth offering.

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Second only to gold but just as shiny.

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The hellbank has diversified its currency offerings in recent years as the underworld develops an international economy!

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Protip: Not willing to spend more on ingots? Fold your own ingots with joss paper to increase their value in the underworld!

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过路钱 Guo Lu Qian

For spirits to pay taxes and bribes as they journey in the underworld. People often throw this in the air instead of burning it. That's a misconception! If you don't burn it, the spirits cannot receive it.

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往生钱 (Wang Sheng Qian) Reincarnation Money

Money to help spirits to reach reincarnation quicker

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All in one

Convenient Ancestor Workship

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Your Lucky Number
4 5 3 7
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Trending Items
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Bubble Tea

100% sugar, 0% chance of diabetes.

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Limited Edition, Unlimited Comfort

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The Hai Di Lao hype extends beyond the living world. Get all the best ingredients in one pot!

Travel Essentials
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Why buy your ancestors a plane ticket when you can buy them a private plane?

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No driving license needed. Comes with a chauffeur.

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Petrol Kiosk

Where there's a car, there's petrol stations. Help your ancestors avoid car troubles in the underworld.

After Lifestyle
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House Pets

A must-have for animal lovers.

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Mahjong Set

Your ancestor's favourite game continues in the underworld with gold bars, billion dollar notes and automatic shuffling.

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Latest Tech Products

Help your ancestors stay connected in the afterlife. No software updates required.

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Luxury Bags

The best way for your ancestors to carry their gold bars in style.

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High Tea Set

Fuels “Tai Tai” gossip sessions in the underworld.

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Sushi Platter

Some say sashimi is freshest when its made of paper.

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Fast Food

For McDonald's lovers, there's always WcDonald's in the afterlife.

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Espresso Machine

Caffeine fix for afterlife kopi sessions.

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大吉 Daji

Auspicious Tangerines

1 Round trip to Japan for two
2 Round trip to Pulau Ubin for two
3 Round trip to Europe for two

大吉 Daji

Auspicious Tangerines


Wrapped in a bundle of 20 tangerines, this fortune item is also known as 大吉 (Da Ji), a pun that sounds like large oranges but also means 'big luck'. People bid up to $15,000 for these lucky fruits at Zhong Yuan auctions!


乌金 Wu Jin


1 A car
2 Louis Vuitton bag
3 Front row ticket to all concerts in Singapore

乌金 Wu Jin



A Zhong Yuan auction must-have, the 乌金 (wu jin) meaning black gold is a piece of charcoal wrapped in yellow or gold paper said to bring good fortune. At big auction events, it has reportedly fetched highs of $88,888!


发财炉Fa Cai Lu

Prosperity Urn

1 A condo on Orchard Road
2 Rolex Submariner
3 A trip to space

发财炉Fa Cai Lu

Prosperity Urn


A favourite at Zhong Yuan auctions, prosperity urns often hit the headlines with record breaking bids. In 2013, a new high was set with a bid of $488,888! 发财炉 (fa cai lu) literally 'prosperity urn' is said to bring wealth to its owner.


Feng Shui Painting

1 A month-long trip to Europe
2 A 3-Room HDB Flat in Ang Mo Kio
3 iPhone 11 Pro Max

Feng Shui Painting


In 2018, a viral video on Facebook featured a snippet of someone bidding $555,000 for what seems to be a painting. Fengshui paintings are created according to fengshui principles to bring about good luck in the household it is adorned in.

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More Info: Getai


Loud music, over-the-top costumes and larger-than-life personalities, getai performances on temporary stages have become a permanent mainstay of Zhong Yuan festival.

The getai we know today has gone through many changes. In fact, when it first started out, it had no relation to Zhong Yuan at all. The popularity of such performances originated from 歌舞团 (Ge Wu Tuan), song-and-dance troupes that grew with the amusement parks of 1950s Singapore. At its peak there were 20 getai groups across the three amusement parks, Great World, Happy World and New World!

As these amusement parks started to decline in popularity by the 1970s, getai entertainers found a new home on Zhong Yuan festival stages. Here, they performed not just to people but also spirits. Popular for its Hokkien songs, comedic hosts and flashy costumes, getai has taken over Chinese street opera as the entertainment headliner during Zhong Yuan.

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Zhong Yuan Auction

Would you part with tens of thousands of dollars for a pair of good-luck tangerines? Bids like this are not unheard of during Zhong Yuan festival auction dinners also known as 喊标会 (Zhong Yuan Hui).

Auction Dinners?

Rows of 福物 (fu wu) auspicious items up for bid, a boisterous auctioneer shouting 'Huat ah' too many times and starting bids that end in with the number 8; these are the common sights of the auction dinner. Held in celebration of Zhong Yuan festival, these auction dinners are often held in temples on the same lunar date each year. It is believed that sticking to the same dates will help spirits who previously visited find their way back to the celebration. Afterall, no one likes a sudden change to their itinerary.

What items can you bid for?

Up for grabs during the auction dinner include an array of items (often blessed by Taoist priests) believed to bring good luck. Everyday items like charcoal, rice barrels and oranges are dressed up and put up for bid due to their auspicious symbolism.

Why do people bid at such high prices?

People bid incredibly high prices for these seemingly mundane items not just for bragging rights or good luck. It is also seen as an act of generosity towards the organisers and to the spirits. That's because the funds raised during the auction will be used to organise next year's dinner, provide offerings for roaming spirits and even donated to charitable causes.

At the heart of these auction dinners, is a spirit of kindness to take care of the neglected. So, how high will you bid for a dose of good luck and as a gesture of generosity?

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Chinese Street Opera

Chinese street opera commonly known as 歌仔戏 (ge zai xi) meaning folk-tune opera, has been seen in Singapore as early as the 1840s! Blending into Singapore's multicultural mix, the art form has also adopted the name 'wayang', a Malay word that refers to theatrical performances.

Chinese opera found its way to Singapore's shores along with early Chinese migrants. As they settled and built Chinese temples, Chinese street opera became a part of the cultural landscape. These performances were held outdoors on temple grounds to entertain deities and devotees alike during festivals. Chinese opera eventually grew in popularity so much so that dedicated theatres were built at one time to host regular shows!

To the uninitiated, all Chinese opera performances seem the same. However it comes in a variety of genres tied to dialect groups. In Singapore, Hokkien and Teochew opera are the more popular genres, mirroring the majority dialect groups of the Chinese population.

Today, with decreased usage of Chinese dialects and a lack of new blood in the industry, Chinese opera is losing both its performers and audience. However, its bold painted faces, colourful costumes and melodious drama remains an icon of Chinese culture in Singapore.

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Meet the Humans of Zhong Yuan

Known for uncovering rich characters of everyday Singapore and Southeast Asia, Our Grandfather Story (OGS) has had more than a few encounters with the people behind-the-scenes of Zhong Yuan festival.

From a kim zua craftsman to a Teochew puppet troupe, we learn about the festival through the vibrant people who make it happen.

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More Info: Kimzua

What about deities?

During Zhong Yuan festival, one of the deities who gets the most attention is 大士爷 (Da Shi Ye) also known as the god of salvation. It is believed that he is the one helping spirits in the underworld and ensures that they do not create trouble in the mortal realm.

Paper effigies of Da Shi Ye can often be seen at larger offerings usually organised by temples or building associations. At these VIP style offerings for spirits, you'll see food offerings aplenty, gambling tables filled with gold and mahjong sets and even paper toilets!


An independent digital festival started with a simple question – this year how ah?

In a year of pandemics and panics, we will see Singapore's quietest Zhong Yuan in over centuries. With everyone indoors and online, we thought this charming tradition ought to have its own little corner on the cloud too.

Here is a home for all things Zhong Yuan, from live getai performances to virtual paper offerings of all shades. As the gates of hell open to a muted landscape this year, we hope to keep the human spirit burning bright through the festival and beyond.


brought to you by

The Merry Men Works The Merry Men Works is a creative studio and production workshop that blurs the lines between digital and physical experiences.
Screensavers is a web and interactive studio employing the Internet as a native form of creative expression.
Convey is an all-in-one digital unit with just the right balance of fun and thoughtfulness.
PATRICK CHAN is the illustrator behind

Content Partners

LEX(S) Entertainment Productions
Modernizing getai since 2001, LEX(S) rejuvenated performances with lighting effects, impressive stage structures and was the first production house to stream getai live. The livestream getai performances you see here are all produced by LEX(S).
our grandfather story
A digital publisher that uncovers timeless and overlooked stories across Southeast Asia, Our Grandfather Story is the creator of the videos featuring people from behind-the-scenes of Zhong Yuan festival.
Ban Kah Hiang Trading
A religious goods supplier and retailer since the 1950s, Ban Kah Hiang has been continually innovating, bringing localised paper offerings like the SGD hell notes to the market. Ban Kah Hiang provided the project with insights to the industry and Zhong Yuan rituals. The items featured in the virtual kim zua shop were also bought and partially shot at Ban Kah Hiang.
Singapore Taoist Federation
A national-level organisation founded in 1990 to foster understanding of Taoism, the Singapore Taoist Federation provided insights into the origins and practices of the festival.
Tok Tok Chiang
Tok Tok Chiang is a Chinese opera events and entertainment company and also the home of Lao Sai Tao Yuan, one of the oldest Teochew opera troupes in Singapore. Tok Tok Chiang has been championing the appreciation of Chinese opera and provided insights into the artform and industry.
Heng Hui Jun Funeral Services
Beyond funeral services, Heng Hui Jun Funeral Services also produces getai and temple auctions. Its founder, Mr Chua, auctioned the record Zhong Yuan bid in Singapore and provided insights into Zhong Yuan auctions.
Sylvester Tan
The font, Getai Grotesk, used on the website is created by Sylvester Tan, a multidisciplinary graphic designer who created it based on his study of getai culture.
Chong Ng
An award-winning photographer with a focus on still-life, Chong captured the photo essays of this project with his trusty 6x7 medium format camera.