Aug 10, 2020

Top Five Ghost-Related Chinese Words & A Note about Ghost Month Taboos

Are there any dates specifically allotted to honor the dead/spirits in your culture?

In Chinese culture, the entire 7th month of the Chinese calendar, a.k.a. Ghost Month is the month dedicated to the dead. Chinese people believe during the month, the ghosts of the deceased would come to visit the living world. And in order to make peace with those spirits, special ceremonies are performed with offerings of food and drinks and even paper money for the spirits of the dead. 

To further boost your knowledge about the Chinese Ghost month, you are going to learn the top five ghost-related words to make your language skill shine. Plus, the taboos you must know to spice up conversations with your Chinese friends.

鬼 (guǐ) ghost

Of course, you can’t talk about the Chinese ghost month without learning the most essential character — 鬼 (ghost)! In oracle bone script, 鬼 was a kneeling figure with a square-shaped head. Today, it means “ghost,” “devil” or “spirit of the dead.” 

鬼月 (guǐ yuè) ghost month

鬼 (Ghost) + 月 (Month) = 鬼月 (Ghost month)

The Chinese 7th lunar month is not a typical month compared with other months in the Chinese calendar because the month is commonly referred to as 鬼月 (ghost month). During the month, Chinese people pay their respects to the deceased by offering sacrifices, cooking elaborate meals, and burning paper-mache of goods like clothes and gold.

中元 (zhōng yuán) the 15th day of Ghost Month

The 15th day of Ghost Month, a.k.a. Zhong Yuan (中元) Festival is the most important day during 鬼月.  On the night of 中元, Chinese people feast and they would leave an empty chair around the table for the deceased in the family, treating the deceased as if they are still living. Some places even offer Broadway-style entertainment to the wandering ghosts as the Chinese believe that by pleasing spirits, they won’t be harassed.

女鬼 (nǚ guǐ) female ghost

女 (woman/female) + 鬼 (Ghost) = 女鬼 (Female ghost)

If you are someone who really enjoys reading supernatural stories, then you’ve got to get hold of the classical Chinese literature Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Songling Pu (1640 – 1715). The book is a collection of supernatural/ghost-themed tales compiled from ancient Chinese folktales. In the collection, there are several stories about ordinary men falling in love with kind 女鬼 because the men once saved the lives of those female spirits when they were living in the form of other creatures, such as foxes. 

男鬼 (nán guǐ) male ghost

男 (man/male) + 鬼 (Ghost) = 男鬼 (Male ghost)

In contrast to the vivid characters that female ghosts (女鬼) come across, in Chinese folktales, most male ghosts (男鬼) don’t play primary roles in the stories. In ancient Chinese society, females were regarded as much less important than the opposite sex. So some people believe that the female ghost stories are the way that male/female writers that lashed out their political view on the unfair treatment between men and women and hoped to awaken public opinions on the issue. 

No-Nos

During 鬼月, for believers, there are certain No-Nos to obey to avoid possible disturbance by the ghosts. Those don’ts can even be categorized into personal and business levels! On a personal level, people would avoid getting married (explanation: may end up with a divorce), moving house (explanation: may bring bad feng shui to the new place) or even go swimming (explanation: may drown as water ghosts look for a replacement to take their place). And the business will be much less willing to sign important contracts or take risks when it comes to critical decision making. Some Chinese people believe that breaking those taboos will bring bad luck! 2nd post about the ghost month.

Conclusion

If you happen to be in China or any Chinese-speaking communities during 鬼月, make sure you use the cultural insights and top five ghost-related Chinese words you just acquired through this post. Your Chinese friends will surely be impressed by your knowledge about culture and the language!

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