The Fascinating Tradition of Ancestor Money in Ancestral Veneration

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The Fascinating Tradition of Ancestor Money in Ancestral Veneration

When it comes to ancestral veneration, many different customs and practices exist across the world. One intriguing and lesser-known tradition within this realm is the use of ancestor money. Also known as ghost money, spirit money, or joss paper, ancestor money plays a significant role in various cultures, particularly in East Asia. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating origins, symbolism, and modern-day significance of ancestor money in ancestral veneration practices.

The Origins of Ancestor Money

Ancestor money has its roots in ancient Chinese culture and is closely tied to the belief in an afterlife and the spiritual realm. The tradition can be traced back to the Han Dynasty in China, which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD. During this time, it was believed that the deceased required material wealth and provisions to live comfortably in the afterlife.

To satisfy these needs, the custom of burning symbolic items made of paper began. The practice has since spread to other East Asian countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore.

The Symbolism of Ancestor Money

Ancestor money serves as a link between the living and the deceased, providing the deceased with essential resources in the afterlife. The act of burning the money is seen as a means of transferring wealth from the physical world to the spiritual realm. It symbolizes respect, filial piety, and the continuation of familial bonds beyond death.

The paper used to create ancestor money often features intricate designs and is printed in vibrant colors, replicating real currency. These designs typically include images of mythical dragons, phoenixes, and various deities, each carrying its own spiritual significance and protection.

In addition to monetary notes, other items such as houses, clothing, cars, and even technological gadgets made of paper are also burned alongside the money. These objects aim to fulfill the specific desires and needs of the deceased in the afterlife. It is believed that by offering these symbolic items, the family can ensure that their ancestors’ spirits remain prosperous and happy.

Modern-Day Significance of Ancestor Money

The practice of using ancestor money has evolved over time to adapt to modern needs and cultural changes. Today, many families burn ancestor money during specific occasions to honor their deceased loved ones. These occasions include ancestral birthdays, the Qingming Festival (also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day), and the Ghost Festival.

During these events, families gather at ancestral gravesites, temples, or dedicated altars, and burn ancestor money as an offering. They may also perform rituals and prayers to communicate with their ancestors and seek their guidance and blessings in everyday life.

Aside from a form of religious or spiritual expression, ancestor money has also become a symbol of cultural identity and pride. Ethnic Chinese communities around the world, for example, often maintain the tradition to preserve their heritage and honor their ancestors despite living in different cultural contexts.

Exploring the Varied Forms of Ancestor Money

While ancestor money is commonly associated with paper notes, its forms and variations extend beyond currency. Here are some distinct types of ancestor money:

1 Spirit Money
2 Hell Bank Notes
3 Gold Ingot Paper
4 Luxury Item Replicas

Spirit Money refers to the traditional paper currency used for ancestral veneration. It typically resembles banknotes and is burned to provide the spirits with financial resources.

Hell Bank Notes, on the other hand, mimic checks or promissory notes. They are burned as a symbolic payment for deceased ancestors to easily navigate the underworld and pay off any debts they may have accrued during their earthly existence.

Gold Ingot Paper replicates gold bars or ingots. Burning these papers symbolizes sending wealth and prosperity to the spirits in the afterlife.

Luxury Item Replicas embody objects of desire such as houses, cars, and electronics. By burning these replicas, the living hope to provide their ancestors with the fulfillment of their materialistic desires while they were alive.

The Ethics and Environmental Impact

While the tradition of burning ancestor money is deeply ingrained in ancestral veneration customs, it has faced criticism due to its environmental impact. Historically, the money was made from handmade materials that would naturally decompose after being burned.

However, in modern times, the use of cheap synthetic materials and toxic chemicals has become prevalent in the production of joss paper, leading to concerns about air pollution and environmental damage.

To address these concerns, some communities have started to adopt eco-friendly alternatives made from recycled paper or materials that are easier on the environment.


Understanding the significance of ancestor money provides us with insight into the diverse world of ancestral veneration and the various ways in which different cultures honor and remember their deceased loved ones. The tradition of burning this symbolic currency not only connects and strengthens familial bonds across generations but also serves as a means of supplication and respect for the spirits in the afterlife.

As the world continues to change, the practice of ancestor money has also transformed, adapting to modern needs and environmental concerns. While the tradition may evolve over time, its essence remains a testament to the enduring connections between the living and their ancestors.

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The Fascinating Tradition of Ancestor Money in Ancestral Veneration