During Ghost Month in Taiwan, it’s believed the gates of hell open and the spirits come out and wander, looking for food to eat and mischief to cause.
For the many Taiwanese who follow the traditional religions, one of the main activities happens on the 15th day of the Ghost Month, known as Pudu. Normally, spirits are worshipped by their family members, so they are well fed with items they enjoyed eating when they were still alive. However, the purpose of Pudu is to please the lonely spirits that are not usually worshipped, by offering food and other goodies to them.
Since these lonely ghosts are ‘strangers,’ most people worshipping them will not know what they enjoyed eating in their previous life on earth, and therefore it is a great opportunity for stores to promote their products in an effort to gain customers. In recent years, the creativity in helping the public be aware and prepare for Ghost Month has really grown into an advertising art form.
In the past, worshippers used to take the time to prepare fancy animal sacrifices, but most people do not have time for this anymore, so packaged and canned goods have come to represent their dedication.
In supermarket catalogues and posters, cute drawings and caricatures of chubby and friendly looking ghosts (alongside celebrities) abound, often holding the foods that the supermarket wants to advertise. In an effort to appeal to children as their parents shop for the food to sacrifice, the packaging of canned items and bags of snacks features adorable looking ghosts. Advertising executives for one well-known supermarket chain have said that they do not want people to view Ghost Month as a scary event, so they sought to portray the event with comedic and cute adverts instead.
One commercial showed a tour bus full of people on a 30-day, 29-night self-guided trip to the world to enjoy eating all the fantastic foods. Upon further watching,however, the viewer will notice that this is no ordinary tour bus – the people on the bus were actually spirits bound for their eating tour to the human world!
Bus tour for spirits visiting Taiwan
Spirit ‘tour guide’.
Spirits that form boy bands, spirits that break into beautiful ballet dance when fed with care, and other comedic efforts serve to remind customers that these lonely ghosts need to be cared for as well. What’s the best way to continually care for these lonely ghosts? How about burning a paper version of this top supermarket for them to use in the afterlife so that they are never hungry again? The caption on the advert reads ‘So we say…such a great supermarket is, of course, worth loving into the afterlife.’
Not all the advertisements are related to sacrificial foods, however. There are also some commercials starring celebrities that relay different messages about an aspect of Ghost Month. For example, a message that ‘Peace/safety is a blessing’ portrays the short story of a mother’s kindly reminders during Ghost Month to her young child (eg. not going swimming, not whistling at night). Only after the child has grown into an adult does he realise those reminders were an expression of love, helping him to not anger the spirits so that he will grow up peacefully and safely each year.
A well-known supermarket in Taiwan promotes its Ghost Month special offers on social media.
Another supermarket chain introduced a hashtag on Instagram so customers could share photos of their table of sacrificial foods and enter a competition.
All this creativity is invested to promote Ghost Month is appreciated by the general public to not only decrease their fears of this annual event, but for those who believe in the spirit world and do partake, means this tradition is passed on to the next generation as a reminder of their duty to also care for the lost and lonely spirits.
OMF missionary in Taiwan
Will you pray for The Task Unfinished?
- Pray for Taiwanese Christians and missionaries to have and take opportunities to share about the difference Jesus makes in their lives at this time of year.