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Zhongyuan Festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival is observed throughout the entire seventh lunar month, usually around August of the Gregorian calendar.

During this period, Chinese worship their ancestors and make offerings to wandering souls,  hence giving rise to the commonly known name “Hungry Ghost Festival”. 

In Singapore, the significance of the Zhongyuan Festival differs between the Taoists and Buddhists. Taoists believe in appeasing the wandering souls from the netherworld while Buddhists emphasise filial piety.

Before you let goosebumps engulf you, let’s delve deeper into the meaning of this festival.

Info source:

  1. Singapore Infopedia – Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival)
  2. Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Chinese Customs and Festivals in Singapore, “Qing Ming Jie (All Souls’ Day)”, p.45; “Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival),” p.63
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Even though Taoists and Buddhists in Singapore have different views on the significance of the  festival, most Chinese Singaporeans observe the festival in similar ways.

Let’s have a look at how it has been done!

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offering offering

During the entire seventh lunar month, Chinese would make offerings of food, joss sticks, candles, paper money and other paper effigies like houses, cars and clothes alongside prayer rituals for our ancestors and the wandering souls.

Chinese associations would usually burn paper offerings in large quantities, with a large paper effigy of Dashiye, also known as the King of Hell. A small image of Guanyin can be found on its forehead as it’s believed to be an incarnation of the deity.

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During the Zhongyuan Festival, you might have seen events happening in our local neighbourhoods. A ceremony consisting of dinner, auctions and getai performance are usually what most of us are familiar with.

Business owners in the neighbourhood will contribute to a pool of money which would be used to make mass offerings during the Zhongyuan Festival. Offering items include rice, oil, canned food, fruits and stalks of sugarcane which will eventually be distributed to participants.

The boisterous atmosphere from the auctions within the neighbourhood during this period might be something most Singaporeans recognise. These auctions are meant for temples and organising committees to raise funds for the following year’s dinner. Auction bidders believe that their charitable bids will bring them good luck.

Read on to find out more!

ceremonies ceremonies

Image source: Seedly Blog

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eating table

Image source: Siglap IRCC

During the Zhongyuan Festival, dinner banquets (a.k.a. jiak tok) and auctions usually come hand-in-hand. As the Chinese saying goes, “food is the necessity of life”. Our local Chinese culture has been profoundly influenced by the significance of banquets. They’re often held to honour significant events while reflecting our Chinese Singaporean spirit of hospitality. The quality of life in Singapore rose after independence. This is reflected in the larger banquets held for important occasions such as weddings, funerals and the Zhongyuan Festival.

On-site auctions were included to raise funds for the following year’s dinner expenses. Want to find out more interesting facts about jiak tok?

First launched at the Centre’s “RE•MIX 2K22” youth festival last year, the Eating Table exhibition unravels the rich history and evolution of local Chinese banquet caterers.

Check out here for more information on the Eating Table exhibition!

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The rich getai heritage in Singapore dates back to the early 1940s.

In 1953, the economy boomed in Singapore. Without Netflix or Disney+, the popular choice for entertainment was to enjoy live music performances by getai singers. Unlike today, getais then were located in Singapore’s three main amusement parks, namely Happy World, New World and Great World. The performances combined singing, dancing, acrobatics and even opera. Mostly conducted in dialects, the performances had many popular Hong Kong and Taiwan songs. Hence, getai became popular with the local Chinese community in no time.

By 1963, the growing popularity of getai made it the main platform to showcase such performers!

During the 1960s and 1970s, getai became associated with the Zhongyuan Festival. The festival’s traditional ritualistic performances of Teochew opera, Hokkien opera, or glove puppetry shows, were replaced by getai. By the 1980s, these getai shows became the most important entertainment event of the festival, with local dialect songs and comedy skits reflecting local grassroots sentiments.

Things changed in the early 2000s when Singaporean director Royston Tan filmed two getai-based movies 881 and 12 Lotus. The former film was a major success and getai slowly regained popularity among the locals, including the younger crowd.

Find out how we are observing the Zhongyuan Festival uniquely in Singapore!

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