Monday, 3 December 2012

Votive Paper People

Whilst in Hong Kong, we stumbled across some intriguing small shops that were packed to the rafters with paper products. These items were all intended to be burnt as offerings to the dead. The paper products ranged from bundles of gold stamped paper and fake paper money to three dimensional paper cars, houses, clothes and people. They even sold paper iPads and paper laptops! We ended up buying a paper boy and girl dressed in their pyjamas. I couldn’t bear the thought of such lovely objects going up in smoke.
Worshippers usually visit temples or shrines to cast their votive objects into an open fire. However, in Hong Kong we witnessed these acts of worship on the street, amidst the hustle and bustle of every day life. In one area, several ladies had set up make shift shrines underneath a busy underpass where buses and trams trundled by. The burning of paper tigers seemed to be popular here. Most markets also had a small metal container where people could burn sheets of paper. This to me seemed like a fast food approach to religion!

The burning of paper is a Buddhist tradition practised in China, Vietnam and Korea. The paper items, or votives, are ceremonially burnt during festivals. The main time to burn these votive objects is during the seventh lunar month and a week before the Lunar New Year, also known as Tết Nguyên Đán. The intention is to commemorate the dead and send the votive objects to their dead ancestors. Some people hope that by doing this, their dead ancestors will be pleased and in return help them out in their business dealings or health. Funerals are another occasion when paper is burnt and this is usually in the form of fake paper money.

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