CULTURE

Funeral fashion show to inject life into Hong Kong's Hungry Ghosts Festival

Fashion show aims to inject life into Hungry Ghost Festival - and get people talking about death

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 11:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 4:47am

In Chinese culture the Hungry Ghost Festival takes place during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when some believe spirits – perhaps hostile and vengeful – are released from behind the gates of hell to roam the human world.

Even today in Hong Kong it is common to see people burn offerings and leave food by the roadside for the hungry ghosts.

But one local thinks the annual ritual is taken too seriously, especially by older generations, and has come up with a plan to inject some life into the event – a fashion show for burial clothes.

“Western people celebrate their ghost festival, Halloween, in a fun way,” says Catherine Lui Sze-wai, co-founder of education advocacy group Liberal Union. “So why should Hongkongers be so fearful of our ghost festival?”

Younger people find the festival creepy, said liberal studies tutor Lui, and some end up seeking blessings from deities despite normally calling themselves atheists.

At Lui’s ghoulish gala, to be held on Ghost Day – the 15th day of the seventh lunar month - August 10 this year – the models will strut their stuff wearing qipao and changshan. The festival is on the 15th day of the seventh month but it is observed on the 14th day in southern China.

But the traditional garb will incorporate modern cuts and be studded with HK$1 million worth of crystal rhinestones.

“I want to change the superstitious ways of seeing and doing things,” Lui said. “In Hong Kong, superstition has gone too far. We idolise the fung shui masters and people still think rich people have better luck because they have more money to hire better fung shui masters. I don’t think this phenomenon is healthy.”

She expects the event to make for good liberal-studies research material, being both a celebration of a valuable traditional culture and an effort to demystify the concept of death.

The models will include some of Lui’s students as well as local actress Lana Wong Ha-wai.

The 81-year-old actress held a “funeral” for herself – organised by Lui – just last month, where she sat in a HK$1.2 million silver coffin, wearing a tiara and a black rhinestone-studded qipao embroidered with golden and red flowers.

Lui said she found various funeral customs in Chinese culture deeply intriguing, recalling the offerings made out of paper – a house, mahjong table, dog and even a security guard – that her family bought for her grandmother’s funeral.

“I found that quite funny,” Lui says. “Is there a wealth gap in the underworld as well, since rich people can afford to buy more offerings?”

The tutor believes that Hongkongers do not discuss death enough, leaving them ill equipped to deal with life.

“I’ve been seeing a trend of young pupils committing suicide because they’re not emotionally strong enough and they haven’t been prepared to face their life,” she says.

“After all, how can you understand life properly if you don’t talk about death?”

The free show starts at 7pm on August 10 on the ground floor of Innocentre in Kowloon Tong.