Joss Paper (Funeral Customs)
Third of three in Chinatown series
Joss paper are sheets of paper that are burned in traditional Chinese deity or ancestor worship ceremonies during special holidays. Joss paper is also burned in traditional Chinese funerals. Usually made of white paper cut into the shape of a copper coin, joss paper is scattered around the grave or burned as an offering to the dead. The custom is called “paper scattering” or “paper burning” etc. It is still popular today
Traditionally, Joss paper is made from coarse bamboo paper or rice paper. The Joss is cut into squares or rectangles and has a thin piece of square foil glued in the center. Sometimes, it is even endorsed with a traditional Chinese red ink seal depending on the particular region. The paper is generally of a white color (symbolizing mourning) and the foil is either silver or gold (representing wealth), hence the name, ghost money. The three types of ghost money are copper (for newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown), gold (for the deceased and the higher gods), and silver (for ancestral spirits and local deities). Sometimes Joss paper is completely gold, engraved with towers or ingots. The burning of joss paper is not done casually, but with a certain reverence, placed respectfully in a loose bundle. Some other customs involve folding each sheet in a specific manner before burning. The burning is mostly done in an earthenware pot or a chimney built specifically for this purpose. Practitioners of the ritual, derived from a mix of Taoism and regional folklore, believe that burning paper money equates to making advance deposits into an afterlife bank account that the deceased’s spirit can access in heaven.
Paper objects, such as clothing, jewellery, mobile phones, accessories, cars including a liveried chauffeur, lavish models of paper villas with manicured gardens, home interiors, medicine, fancy foods and liquors, cosmetics and others, should be extravagant, luxurious and will most likely be showing a high end brand name of an earthly company; simply speaking: the more expensive- the better. The ancestors will be given all the luxuries that were eluded in life.
As many Taiwanese people believe the world spirits go to in the afterlife is a mirror of the human world, they also believe that the departed require a place to live, food to eat and money. Burning an object at a funeral in the human world transports it to the spirit world, which keeps the ghost of the departed happy and brings luck to the living.
Note: a store, Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, on Mulberry Street along what is known in Chinatown as Funeral Row, sells traditional objects of mourning, mostly copies of luxury objects. The items are made of cardboard, paper and plastic.