Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

One Great Shot: Lanterns for Ghosts

Claudio Sieber visited Taiwan in August to witness a festival during Ghost Month—the time of year when some Buddhist and Taoist communities believe the gates of the underworld crack open and spirits return to Earth.

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by Claudio Sieber

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lanterns burning during Ghost Month in Taiwan

In the Taiwanese harbor town Keelung, thousands of onlookers of all generations gather to watch lanterns burn as part of Ghost Month festivities. Devotees fill the elaborate creations with symbolic money before releasing the lanterns into the water and setting them on fire as offerings to spirits. Professional divers ensure the lanterns make it past incoming waves.

The lantern featured here was created by craftsman Du Zhen Hao, whom I followed throughout the event. At 29, he is one of Taiwan’s youngest designers of cultural assets. The lantern imitates a temple and features intricate motifs from Chinese mythology: koi fish, the majestic phoenix-like bird Fenghuang, and snarling dragons. Inside, Du arranged a bedroom and a living room, including a tiny TV set—all made out of paper—to guarantee a pleasing ambiance for the ghosts. I was granted access to the water and positioned myself in the swell, between divers and wistful craftsmen. I watched Du’s lantern burn among the 10 to 15 others that were already disappearing in the waves.