Monday, August 20, 2012

String Puppet Show for Chinese Hungry Ghosts Month (农历七月) @ 开山庙 [Singapore]

The Hungry Ghost Month is believed to be a period when the hell gates to the mortal world are left open for ghosts and spirits to freely roam and partake in enjoyable activities like eating. 

Unlike the Western concept, hell, in the eyes of the Chinese is not controlled by Satan. Instead, there are courts of justice to determine how "good" a person has been when he/she is alive and whether the person deserves to ascend to heaven or remain in hell to receive punishment for his/her bad deeds. 

There are various entertainments for these roaming ghosts and a traditional one is the string puppet show, which is known to be a dying trade in Singapore. 

However, there is still a demand - i presume it is cheaper to host a puppet show as compared to a Chinese opera since you would not need a lot of people and the temporary stage does not require a big setup space.  

I counted only five persons doing the show - three puppeteers and two musicians.

With so many strings affecting the puppets' movement, i am sure only a person with good dexterity can control them with precision. Leave them with me and i guarantee it would be a matter of time before i cut off all the strings! *no disrespect intended*

Chairs were placed in front of the stage for the ghosts to sit and enjoy the show and in some cases, there will be an additional table laid with food for the wandering ghosts to satisfy their hunger. 

They (无主孤魂) are either spirits without families or even if they have, their family members and/or descendants might have stopped making offerings to them. Hence, the need to cloth, feed and entertain them during this month.

Like many others, i am skeptical. There are just too many question marks when it comes to the cultural practices for the 7th lunar month. 

Anyway, the offerings on the floor piqued my interest; sweets, jellies, biscuits, toys, yakult drinks, children clothing etc. I had to approach the temple manager for more information!

My question was stupid! The section right in front of the stage was of course reserved for the child spirits. It should have make sense to me given that in the past, children loved to sit on the floor right in front of the stage! 

The performance was in the Teochew dialect and given my poor grasp of the language, i could vaguely make out the lady puppet was complaining about something. 

Each story was meticulously memorized and recited by the puppeteer and you don't see any of them referring to any kind of script! As i mentioned to Kon, technology has made our life convenient and at the same time, it is making our brains lazy. 

With the younger generation who are even less trained in Chinese dialects, there are only two future paths for such traditional performances. Either they fall into oblivion or the conversation has to be in English (this would sound damn weird) and/or Mandarin. 

Having said that, i am aware the future looks bleak for the trade. 


Kai-Shan Temple (开山庙)
1300, Jalan Bukit Merah


  1. Hi any idea where can i find this puppet pple?

    1. Hallo, i don't have their contact but you may call 6270 3760 and speak to the in-charge of the temple. Hope it helps!


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