In the lead up to Cheng Beng festival ( 清明节) and the current economic issues plaguing the headlines, I pondered the different scenarios of economics in the otherworld. With much money and time spent in the preparation of Cheng Beng, what are the best offerings for our ancestors?
To the uninitiated, Cheng Beng is a time where people tend to the graves of their ancestors in the Chinese tradition. It is an intricate event, a day of meeting family members, smoke and fluttering paper, rituals and food.
Apart from the usual offerings of joss paper to symbolise money, all families have one or two unique offerings during Cheng Beng which hint at interesting stories about their family and ancestors. My family offerings are simple and usually involve a bottle of Guinness and a plate of grilled cuttlefish for our grandfather.
I always wondered why there isn’t any coffee, since my ancestors ran a Hainanese coffee shop in the village. I may never know. Apart from a new set of clothes, and a few other food offerings, there isn’t anything else. I think it speaks of our family’s tradition of thriftiness and “waste not, want not” attitude. Other families have their own traditions – some more modern than others. Burning paper handphones, cars and even designer handbags, for example, is now quite common.
Assuming that the otherworld is a reflection of our earthly needs, desires and economic values, let’s discuss the best offerings for our grandparents, popo and yeye.
We usually burn a lot of joss paper monies for popo and yeye during Cheng Beng. But it’s impossible to know of the valuation of these currencies in the otherworld. I assume that since a lot of people will be transmitting cash to the otherworld during the short period of the festival, currencies will most likely fluctuate and dip a bit, at least for the duration of the festival. So perhaps burning more money offerings isn’t going to help popo and yeye a lot.
On a side note, unlike worldly monetary transfers, the act of burning paper monies has very little effect on our worldly pockets and is almost exclusively an one directional transaction (although you could argue that the value of Fook, luck, is the return transaction).
Paper food and drink offerings
As we failed to learn much about the value of money in the otherworld, what can we say about goods and products? Perhaps there is a greater value in goods and items than money. This all depends on the industry on the other side and if there is a scarcity of useful goods.
Let’s assume that there is a thriving industry in the otherworld and yeye thought of venturing into a coffee roasting business. Since we do not yet have any raw material offerings aside from gold and silver, roasting coffee can be difficult. Perhaps the major commodities will be in goods and things instead. But how do we know what popo and yeye really want?
What goods are in demand on the other side? More often than not, what we present as offerings reflect our needs and desires here on Earth. So we may be offering things like homes and cars to toiletries or good food. Taking my family’s offering of the extra special Guinness to yeye (it’s real Guinness) for example.
Things we desire on Earth have value. It is a sound assumption since at one point, our ancestors were from Earth. Yet the value of goods may be perceived differently in the otherworld. Is social value an important part of their world? If so are brands of goods important?
Hypothetically speaking, it is very likely that ancestors in the otherworld value nostalgia and use it as a measure of social value. Acquiring and owning a lot of meaningful stuff may show how rich one’s past life was and how well their family members know and remember them.
So it is safe to say that goods have value, although we cannot say what goods are in demand in the other world. My suggestion is to offer goods that your ancestors are fond of. At least it will make their day to know someone on Earth still remembers their favourite things.
This article is just for fun and is based upon a lot of assumptions. The author is not an economist and is poorly informed about economics.