Saturday, November 6, 2010

The hazards of ghost money (Taiwan Today)

Now that most people in Taiwan understand the importance of not smoking in public places, it is time for the ROC government to move against another threat to public health and comfort: the age-old custom of burning joss paper in temples, on sidewalks and outside homes.

Joss paper, sometimes called “ghost money” or “spirit money,” is paper burned during religious rites to honor ancestors and venerate deities. Throughout the country, pious Taiwanese can be seen burning sheets of joss paper at the climax of religious rituals.

Estimates of the amount of joss paper burned each year range from 90,000 tons to 220,000 tons. Whatever the true figure, it is a major cause of air pollution in urban areas, especially during the seventh month of the lunar calendar—so-called “ghost month”—when vast offerings of food and joss paper are made to keep troublesome spirits at bay.

Many business owners also burn ghost money outside their premises on the first and 15th day of each lunar month. Their smoldering braziers are a nuisance for pedestrians. Oftentimes they are placed in the road, presenting a hazard to cyclists and motorcyclists.

Foreign visitors and residents comment frequently and unfavorably on the consequences of burning ghost money. In 2008, The New York Times noted: “During major festivals ... smoke from burning paper chokes Taiwan streets.”

While many Taiwanese people say they do not object to the smell of burning joss paper, there is no doubt that the smoke and particulates generated by the custom are unhealthy...

To read the rest of this commentary piece, go here. A number of Taiwanese temples already prohibit the on-site burning of joss paper.

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