26 06 2006


An ancient Chinese ritual that has endured through the centuries and is alive today in the practitioners of Taoism is the practice of ancestor worship. Part of this age-old tradition is to burn spirit money, or fabricated currency, so that the smoke rises to the heavens and becomes consumable to the ancestors who reside in the spirit world.

Naturally, this has become a wide-spread practice and the ballooning populations of Asian cities are burning more spirit money at various times of the year than is environmentally sustainable. This practice can be found in major urban metropolises like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Taipei. The sheer amount of burning spirit money each year is staggering.

As part of my MA Interactive Media course at Bournemouth University (UK), I am conducting a survey to explore burning spirit money in Chinese folk religion. I want to understand the motivation behind the burning of spirit money and inquire whether Asian communities would accept an on-line version of this practice, so as to be less harmful to the environment. This survey is very valuable for my research and the questionnaire will be used solely for research purposes. The research methodology involves conducting interviews and sending questionnaires through email, to friends and acquaintances, and distributing them to students in the library and at other locations. This questionnaire cannot be entirely random, as it is necessary to engage ethnically Chinese people who are in the habit of burning spirit money for their ancestors, a group which must be sought and selected in a country like the United Kingdom.

I have so far interviewed 8 persons randomly and sent 40 questionnaires to friends and other contacts (some of whom I do not know) and students in the library. In this survey, the target audience is the young generation from 18 – 40 years old. It is necessary to target this group because predominant generation of Internet users. These people may make decisions that affect their cultures and communities forever and represent the future of ethnic traditions and practices. Indeed it is this group that will decide the future of their cultures, and their feedback is essential.

In total, thirty-two persons have responded to the questionnaire to date. In addition, eight of those thirty-two have been interviewed in person. Although this is quite a number of people, it can in no way represent trends or thinking patterns in populations as large as the Taoist communities of Asia, where the number of practitioners may very well be in the hundreds of millions, figures too gigantic for a discussion like this one. The sampling in this research is a tiny slice of that enormous pie and is in no way meant to suggest that the findings in the data could serve as any kind of cultural barometer of Taoist Asia. It is merely a sample intended to measure a small reaction to the idea of on-line spirit money and to simply hint as to its viability. This research is not a case study, either, but considering the size of the sample, operates more in that realm of numbers, a tiny spoonful of reaction in an ocean of possibility.
Do you burn hell money for your ancestors?

25 people YES (78.1%)
07 people NO (21.9%)

Total 32 people (including those 8 interviewed face to face).


How much do you spend? (**RM = Malaysian Ringgit Currency)

12 persons did spend on spirit money but don’t know how much.
2 persons spent less than RM20
11 person spent more than RM20
7 persons didn’t spend at all


How often do you burn?

7 persons don’ t burn (21.87%)
8 persons burn once a year (25.00%)
14 persons burn twice a year (43.75%)
3 persons burn more than twice a year (9.38%)


Do your neighbours, friends, or family also burn hell money?

32 persons said YES
Only 2 persons said DO NOT KNOW


Would you consider using a website to send money to your ancestors?

11 (34.37%) persons said YES.
The reasons are YES: This is a new format, a new idea. It saves the environment and it’s fun, easy, and quick. This will pass the idea of this dying culture to the next generation; in a way it preserves the idea. It will prevent further environmental pollution, will save time and is comfortable. It is helpful to the environment and will save some money as well, etc.

21 (65.63%) persons said NO.
The reasons are NO: Some of the feedback on the negative side indicated people believed it to be insincere. It was thought to be against traditional practice, since the burning process is very important, and the new way was seen as being devoid of physical feeling. People were afraid that the ancestors would not be able to receive the money. Some said it sounded ridiculous and that the ancestors would not know where there money was going. It was thought that parents would be against it and that it would defeat the purpose behind money burning. It was even argued that the ancestors were not computer literate, and the new idea would not be appropriate.


If a website allows you to design or create hell money, would you consider using it to design/create your own hell money for your ancestors?

14 ( 43.75%) people said YES. The reasons are YES: Some of the respondents indicated that it would take more effort, which would prove their sincerity. Also it was thought to have more personality, would be more interesting and would be a fun and interactive idea.

18 (56.25%) people said NO. The reasons are NO: It takes a long time and is against traditional practice. No respect etc.


What is your age?

For this survey, all the target audience (interviewees) were between 18 – 40 years old. This new idea is focused on this group. This group of people is of the young generation. However, four seniors will be interviewed (55 years and above) to get their opinions about the new concept and idea on burning spirit money on-line.

Where do you live?

11 persons live in Malaysia, 10 persons live in Singapore, 7 persons live in China, 3 persons live in Taiwan and 1 person lives in Thailand.


Do you normally use a computer at home?
This survey shows a total 32 people use computers at home.

How do you feel about the smoke and pollution caused by hell money?

22 (68.75%) persons said they feel bad about smoke and the pollution caused by hell money.
10 (31.25%) persons said they do not feel bad.


Do you feel it bothers you or causes problems in your city?

20 (62.50% ) persons said they feel it is bothersome.
12 (37.50% ) persons said it does not bother them

……………………………………………………………………. (26 June 2006)




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