Spirit Money

For my final project, I decided to take a deeper look at the various forms and uses of “spirit money.” With this I was able to learn the history of this practice, what it is, and all of the different uses it falls under in Chinese customs. Spirit money, or “money for the dead” is a common offering at funerals, used to cast away evil spirits, and is also believed to help repay debts of ones Ancestors.

The main point of my project was to learn more about this practice to get a better understanding of Chinese beliefs and customs. In class we were able to see first hand all the “paper offerings” that are made.

Learning about this I found so interesting because there were paper versions of anything you could think of. There was a laptop, brand name belts and wallets, cell phones, anything. They had Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Apple, Nokia, really any brand you can think of. They also have paper clothes and shoes, so that the person is not “naked” or in poor clothes during their time in the after life. 

It really stuck with me because of how different the ideas of death are from China to the US. When someone dies here, we don’t really think about it past that. If you’re religious then you might debate whether the went to heaven or hell, if they will be reincarnated as a better or worse being the next time around. But it doesn’t really go further than speculation. Following that, the only “offerings” people usually leave are flowers, or anything they deem unique to that specific person. For example, when my uncle passed away. He was always building model cars, so my uncle placed one on his grave. Then, his fiancé got a scorpion embossed in a glass box, because scorpions were my uncles favorite animal.

It seems to personal and unique, because these are things that couldn’t be placed on any grave, only my uncles. However when it comes to paper offerings, it isn’t necessarily specific to each person, but just what the family sees as necessities to enjoy the afterlife.

What makes the paper offerings, especially the paper money, so fascinating, is that everything that is offered is truly believed to be a necessity in the after life. Of course your ancestor would need money, a laptop, and a cell phone. Those are all things needed in this life, so why wouldn’t they need it in theres? It is also interesting as to how they go about giving these offerings.

Instead of simply setting them in front of the dead grave, they instead burn them. The belief behind this is that the smoke will release the offerings into the other worlds and the ancestors will then benefit.

For my project I decided to make an informative booklet. I wanted to set it up to be a “how to” style of book. That way it could be something to keep on hand for travelers so they have explanations for any encounters with spirit money they might face in China.

The booklet starts of with a basic introduction and brief history of spirit money. Then it follows into what to expect it to look like, and some basic practice guidelines. The following pages will then go into different specific uses, how to correctly give the offering in these circumstances, and why it is used during these times. Making sure it is clean and concise, I feel it would make a perfect addition to any travelers readings.

2 thoughts on “Spirit Money

  1. Lindsey Gouley

    I think that this topic for your project is definitely an interesting one. Spirit money or “money for the dead” seems to be a custom that the Chinese do when someone passes away. I like how you mentioned how the ideas of death are so different in China versus the US. I thought it was interesting how instead of placing these paper offerings on the grave, they burn them. I think that it is unique how they burn the “money for the dead” because it is believed that if they burn it, that the smoke will release the offering, and their loved ones will receive it that way. I thought it was interesting how they included brand names like Gucci, nokia, apple, etc. I think that the informative booklet that you are going to make is a very good idea! Interesting topic idea!

  2. Devan Fitzpatrick

    That’s a really cool topic, it’s interesting to me that other cultures put a huge emphasis on spirituality and religion. We do the same here in America but nothing to this extent. It’s interesting that the family will leave this spirit money for their passed love one but actually burn it…This seems like an extremely unique custom that I find really beautiful. I suppose this may help some people with their grief in a way that will make them feel as though their sending their loved one off into the afterlife with everything they may need. Although we don’t practice this in the U.S. I like the parallel you drew between your Uncles grave site that’s unique to him. Religion and spirituality seem to be a huge factor in more than one community around the world. Nice job! & Cool topic.


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