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San Francisco Chinatown is getting a Ghost King parade. Here’s why

The “Ghost King” and the “Flower Bomb Lantern” are the highlights for the the inaugural “Chinatown Hungry Ghost Festival.” | Source: Courtesy Lotus Taoism Institute

The scariest festival in the Chinese calendar is turning into a carnival in San Francisco’s Chinatown this August.

“Ghost Month (鬼月),” celebrated during the seventh month of the lunar calendar—which usually falls in August—is a Chinese cultural tradition. During this period, it is believed that the restless souls and spirits will come from the underworld to visit humans. “Ghost Day” is the 15th day of Ghost Month.

Typically, people are advised to reduce their outdoor activities—especially during nighttime, when it is believed spirits move freely through this world. However, the Chinatown community is thinking differently this year.

The inaugural “Chinatown Hungry Ghost Festival,” hosted by the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, aims to bring more people to the historic neighborhood to experience these unique festivities, instead of scaring them away.

City officials and community leaders join the "Ghost King Parade" event in San Francisco's Chinatown in 2020. | Source: Courtesy Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

“As a cultural celebration in Chinatown, one of the huge considerations is to boost economic development,” said Hoi Leung, the center’s curator and deputy director. 

She emphasized the event can bring people with different cultural backgrounds to Chinatown and promote cross-racial solidarity. The monthlong festival includes weekend art workshops, shopping and art games, Taoist rituals chanting spells and burning incense to relieve ghosts from suffering—and the finale, a “Ghost King Parade” organized by the Lotus Taoism Institute.

Master Ho Ko, the institute’s director, told The Standard that the giant “Ghost King,” which is about 15 feet tall, was made in Hong Kong and then delivered to San Francisco. The institute has been doing “Ghost Month”-related events in Chinatown for the past years.

“We made a brand-new ‘Ghost King’ and a ‘Flower Bomb Lantern (花炮),’” Ko said. “This year’s parade will be very special.”

A Ghost Festival workshop event at Chinatown-Rose Pak Station's upper plaza is led by a Hong Kong art group. | Source: Courtesy Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Chinatown Hungry Ghost Festival

Art workshops
🗓️ Aug. 11-12, 18-19 and 26 | 2-6 p.m. 
📍 Chinatown-Rose Pak Station, SF

Taoist Ritual
🗓️ Aug. 20 | 10 a.m.
📍 829 Stockton St., SF

Ghost King Parade
🗓️ Aug. 26 | 4 p.m.
📍 Chinatown-Rose Pak Station, SF
🔗 ghost-festival.org

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com