The Zhongyuan Festival observed by Taoists and Ullambana Festival celebrated by Buddhists fall on July 15 of the lunar calendar.
Since ancient times, the Chinese have believed that the gates of hell open between the first and 30th day of the seventh lunar month. During this period, hungry ghosts are allowed to wander earth looking for food.
The Zhongyuan Festival is one of three traditional festivals in China that honor the departed spirits of ancestors. It is also a festival to pray for safety and show filial piety to parents. The other two festivals are the Qingming Festival and the Chung Yeung Festival. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in spring) and the Chung Yeung Festival (in autumn), in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, during the Zhongyuan Festival the deceased are believed to visit the living.
The festival is also called the Hungry Ghost Festival. Some feel that the term “hungry” is inappropriate as it shows disrespect to our ancestors and that it should simply be called the Ghost Festival or better still, the Happy Ghost Festival.
Zhongyuan Festival of Taoism
Taoist doctrine holds that the three basic elements that generate everything in the universe are heaven, earth and water, namely sanyuan or “three elements". The official of heaven, Lord Ziwei, brings blessings. He was born on January 15, which is the start of the Shangyuan Festival (Lantern Festival). The official of earth, Lord Qingxu, absolves sins. He was born on July 15, which is the start of the Zhongyuan Festival. The official of water, Lord Dongyin, dispels disasters. He was born on October 15, which is the start of the Xiayuan Festival. The most popular lantern festival is the Shangyuan Festival, or Shangyuan Lantern Festival. During these three festivals, the three officials descend to earth and execute their duties. They are omnipotent. The official of earth, Lord Qingxu, releases the deceased from suffering during the Zhongyuan Festival. Those who have committed sins can also pray for absolution. During the Zhongyuan Festival, a Taoist sacrificial ceremony, commonly called a Taoist rite, is held in Taoist temples to pray for blessings for commoners.