Ghost Month: Why Hungry Ghosts are Bad for Business

Some claim that the third quarter of the business year is adversely affected by Ghost Month


Joss paper. (Flickr image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- We are in the final stretch of the Hungry Ghost Month this year in Taiwan, and people have undoubtedly heard lots of talk about all of the taboos and measures for good luck.

For many, the idea that ghosts are on the prowl for a month harassing the living is met with a bit of incredulity. It may seem like a quaint relic of an older age, but that doesn't change the fact that many people take ghost month very seriously.

In fact, some people claim that the third quarter of the business year is adversely affected by the activities (or rather, the lack thereof) that accompany this time of year.

First, many suppose that there is a higher rate of deadly accidents, catastrophes, and misfortune in the air during ghost month. For those who pay heed to the traditional (some might say superstitious) warnings, the effect is like having a bad weather advisory in effect for the four weeks that the hungry ghosts are lurking about. So despite the incessant heat, beach vacations should be put on hold.

Joss paper and other offerings. (Wikimedia Commons)

On top of that, traditional wisdom advises people against establishing new relationships during the month, both in business and romance. It's also suggested people should not move their house or business, much less sign any new contracts, especially those of the marriage variety.

During ghost month, people may be extra hesitant to make any sort of investment or purchase. This is out of fear for any hungry ghosts in the vicinity, or peering over shoulders, who might mark the agreement for future failure or misfortune.

It is said that all of this taken together contributes to a noticeable slow down in business and financial activity during ghost month. And from the perspective of many people living within Chinese societies, this is no coincidence.

There are plenty of articles and advisers ready to give pointers for business owners and consumers, on the best ways to cope with potentially unlucky energy in the air, and most importantly, how to keep it away from your pocketbook.

Burning joss paper. (flickr image)

The best advice is probably no different than average common sense used the rest of the year. Things like; stay within your budget, do not spend in excess when it is not necessary, and of course remember to honor your ancestors and other spirits by making offerings of food and spending money for them to use in the ghost realm. If you do those things regularly the rest of the year, then the excess number of ghosts on leave from hell during the 7th month of the lunar calendar, should pose no you no problem.

On a more serious note, regardless whether you believe in the potential veracity of the hungry ghost month and its related admonitions or not, the impact these beliefs have on society in Taiwan is very real. In a similar manner to Christmas is the West, it is an important annual event that has grown from genuine religious belief and ritual. That in turn, causes real-life effects on society that both believers and non-believers can readily observe. 

Although there may be scant empirical evidence that hungry ghosts can actually influence the economy this month, people on guard for said hungry ghosts, most certainly can.

It's an interesting thing to consider; is it the ghosts and their potentially misfortune-causing aspect that keep people lying low during the 7th Lunar month? Or, might it be as the skeptics would claim, that people are just jumping from shadows? Then again, maybe some see things in the shadows others do not.