July 16, 2022

Ground-up efforts by Chinese groups to show the way on burning joss paper responsibly

By brit

SINGAPORE – Joss paper should be burned three to four pieces at a time and devotees should not throw whole stacks of them into the burner or toss them into the air.

A new Alliance for Action on Norms for Joss Paper Burning helmed by representatives from more than 10 Chinese religious, cultural and industry associations is taking these messages to the ground through posters or videos at Housing Board blocks, supermarkets and shops selling prayer products. It will also tap social media and getai shows.

The campaign will kick off closer to July 29, which is the start of the seventh lunar month when some people will be burning offerings to mark the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The Singapore Buddhist Federation, Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Singapore Religious Goods Merchants Association and Taoist Federation Singapore are among some organisations with representatives leading the efforts.

The group is supported by the Municipal Services Office as its secretariat.

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for National Development and adviser to the Alliance for Action, said: “The Alliance for Action on Norms for Joss Paper Burning is initiated by the Chinese community. Through ground-up efforts, it hopes to convey to the Chinese public the correct way of burning joss paper.”

She added: “The Municipal Services Office which I oversee will be supporting it to translate its conceptualised messages into publicity materials for public education.”

Besides the Hungry Ghost Festival, many Taoists and Buddhists burn joss paper at funerals, on ancestors’ birthdays and during the Qing Ming Festival as offerings to the dead. It has to be done in designated burners or purpose-built pits in HDB estates.

Mr Kua Soon Khe, chief executive of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said the Chinese community here has to spare a thought for others while observing traditional rituals. He believes it will take three to five years before results can be seen.

The alliance’s focus is on getting people to be socially responsible when burning offerings.

Devotees can do so by:

  • Burning small quantities, such as three or four pieces, of joss paper at a time to ensure complete combustion and to reduce smoke and ashes
  • Not throwing the whole stack of joss paper into the burner or tossing them in the air
  • Clearing all the prayer items and offerings at public places after the ritual to keep the environment clean

Mr Alex Teo, deputy director-general of the Singapore Religious Goods Merchants Association, said: “In recent years, we noticed that many younger devotees like to toss the whole stack of joss paper into the air and shout ‘Huat ah!’. This will dirty the environment and the intended recipients will not get the offerings.”

He added: “With this committee, we can send out a common message in a concerted manner and hopefully promote responsible joss paper burning.”