The first half of July of the Chinese calendar is a folk festival in ancient times to celebrate the harvest and reward the earth. The worship consists to sacrifice their ancestors according to the rules, with new rice and other offerings, and report the autumn to them. This festival is a kind of traditional and cultural festival to remember our ancestors.
And the so-called “Zhongyuan Festival” is derived from the Taoism of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In ancient China, it was divided into Shangyuan, Zhongyuan and Xiayuan on the 15th day of January, July and October: Shangyuan was the day of blessing by the god of heaven, Zhongyuan was the day of forgiveness by the god of hell and Xiayuan was the day of relieving misfortune by the god of water. On the day of Zhongyuan, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth to reunion with families. That’s why it is also called “Ghost Festival”.
The origin of Zhongyuan Festival is also closely related to the Buddhist’s Yulanpen or Ullambana Sutra, which refers to Buddha’s compassion in granting salvation for the tormented souls in hell. In the Western Jin Dynasty, Yulanpen Sutra was translated into Chinese. Since its idea of repaying parents’ kindness is similar to the duty of filial piety in Confucian tradition, it is thus praised and valued by the king, and widely spread in China.
On this day, both the Taoist and Buddhists perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. People put steamed bud, burn incense and joss paper for ghost and release miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.