Ghost Money: What is Joss Paper?

During the Hungry Ghost Festival, it's common to see small, makeshift alters set up on the curbside outside of homes, and people burning money and paper models of various luxury goods. This is "ghost money", also known as "joss paper",  jīnzhǐ  金纸; (gold paper), or  míng bì 冥币 (shade money).

Thai-Chinese ghost money depiting the Jade Emperor

Traditionally, joss paper was made from squares of thin handmade bamboo paper painted with gold or silver squares. These are burned as an offering to the gods and the deceased as the official currency of heaven. In the 20th century, traditional joss paper began to be replaced by "ghost money", banknotes depicting the Jade Emperor of Heaven.

front and back of a Thai 50 baht ghost money note

Nowadays, ghost money can come in many forms. Besides banknotes, people can burn small paper coins, and even gold ingots made out of paper! Traditional Chinese beliefs teach that burning ghost money is the way to send it to one's deceased ancestors in the afterlife.

various examples of Chinese ghost money

In the modern day, ghost money doesn't just come in the form of currency! You can buy specially-made packages of iPhones, watches, jewelry, and other luxury items to burn as well.

Chinese joss paper ghost money luxury goods iphone

You can even buy clothing!

a Chinese joss paper suit for the Hungry Ghost Festival

People burn joss paper during the Hungry Ghost Festival as gifts for their ancestors and as offerings for ghosts and gods.