Traditionally, many Chinese believe that when a person dies, he leaves with no earthly processions and it’s up to their descendants to provide for them in their afterlife until their reincarnation.

Joss paper, made from coarse bamboo paper, is burnt as an offering for the dead. Depending on the region, Joss paper is decorated with seals, stamps, silver or gold paint. These are often folded into the shape of gold or silver ingots.

Plain Joss paper is offered to newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown. Silver is given to ancestral spirits as well as spirits of local deities. Gold spirit money is given to higher gods such as the Jade Emperor. Some believe that the money will enable their ancestors to live lavishly in the afterlife. Others believe that the money is used to bribe the guards and the Black judge of the afterlife in order to escape early.

More contemporary/westernized varieties of Joss paper include Hell Bank Notes and paper credit cards. In the last 50 years, more and more elaborate items are made out of paper as offerings for the dead. Cars, servants and houses were common sights at funerals. As consumer culture takes over China, Joss products have become more and more outrageous. While this practice is officially banned in China, it has always been tolerated.

Some see the offerings as a compensation for what a person never had during his lifetime, many considered the item as a reflection of the values of the living, of our society. In 2006, it was reported that paper prostitutes, Viagra, condoms, ecstasy and gambling equipment were found on sale outside of cemeteries. This lead to a crack down of the more extreme products.

The images in this project are some of the products currently available to burn for the dead.

Kurt Tong