A woman shop owner shows us different kinds of joss paper in the piles of paper behind her desk.

Joss paper

Ghost money or joss paper is square sized bamboo or rice paper you can buy in the temples itself or in specific shops around them. For me, its title “ghost money” originally created the wrong expectations. Ghost money (unlike “hell money”!) doesn’t look like play money, but rather like precious letter paper. It is often decorated with stamps, seals, engraved designs, different colored paper pieces, or even images.

But like with many nice things, all this isn’t just easy. For once, as the degrees of “copper,” “silver,” and “gold” joss paper for ghosts, ancestors, and gods suggest, there is often a considerable amount of heavy metals in joss paper. For this reason, both health and environmental activists advocate to use different offerings or even forgo the burning completely.

At the same time, joss paper is big business for temples. In 2014, joss paper worth $400 million was burned in Taiwan. As you need it to both keep away the hungry ghosts we talked about on Tuesday, and to make sure your ancestors never become hungry (see yesterday’s post), this is maybe not surprising. On the other hand these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Rumor often has it that not few temples are a good facade for money laundering, mafia activities, or Chinese spy rings…

Anyway, the nice lady in the picture is certainly on the good side of things. When visiting her shop after the rituals, she was happy to explain to us the most special and glorious variants of paper she is selling. If you feel you still have to make up for something with your grandparents, maybe she can help!

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