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The Chinese burn joss paper offerings to send ancestors money and material goods in the afterlife. Consequently, you’re likely to see joss paper being burned at funerals, on ancestor birthdays and during important holidays like the Qingming Festival and the Hungry Ghost Festival.
The basic notion behind burning joss paper is that an offering is conveyed into the spirit world through the fire’s smoke. There’s really no coherent theology behind the practice — all you really need is the paper items, a pot or urn to burn them in and the time for reflection. Taking time to care for ancestors in the afterlife ultimately reflects the value the Chinese place on filial piety and respect for one’s elders and ancestors.
You’ll find three common types of joss paper for sale. First are stacks of coarse bamboo paper that are folded to resemble traditional gold ingots. Next is “spirit money” that resembles actual legal tender currency in various denominations. And finally there are paper crafts in the form of household luxuries like shoes, clothing and jewelry.
Arguably the most famous place to buy joss paper is in Hong Kong, where there’s an entire district in Sheung Wan dedicated to these types of goods. However, American Chinatowns will have at least one dedicated joss paper store and we have a robust assortment available in the Chinese American Family shop.
Here is how to buy the three most common types of joss paper.
Joss Paper Squares
The most traditional style of joss paper is made from sheets of coarse bamboo paper, each decorated with a square of gold or silver foil to represent money. It’s most common to fold this joss paper into the shape of the traditional gold ingots used as currency in ancient China.
Chinese Joss Paper – Gold and Silver Foil
This is the most common kind of traditional joss paper, 5.5″ x 6″ sheets of bamboo paper decorated with a small gold or silver square in the center. Beautiful as is, or folded into the shape of gold ingots.
Chinese Joss Paper – Large Gold and Silver Foil
These sheets are identical in size to the squares above, but feature a larger rectangle of gold or silver foil in the center. There’s no meaningful difference between the two styles, choosing one over the other is just a matter of personal preference.
Chinese Joss Paper – Longevity
Each sheet is made from bamboo paper and decorated with a square of gold foil, the Chinese character for longevity and wishes for wisdom, smooth sailing and prosperity.
Joss Paper Money
The Chinese joss paper “spirit money” known as Hell Bank Notes are printed to resemble legal tender currency from various countries. They come in outrageous denominations from 10,000 to 1,000,000 dollars to help an ancestor purchase services, pay off the God of Death or escape punishment.
Joss Paper Money – U.S. Dollar
These Hell Bank Notes resemble the U.S Dollar. Each bill comes in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 5,000 or 10,000 denominations with an image of the Jade Emperor replacing Lincoln, Hamilton or Franklin. They’re a fitting way to memorialize family members who spent their lives in America.
Joss Paper Money – Chinese Yuan
These Hell Bank Notes resemble the Chinese Yuan. Each bill comes in 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100 Yuan denominations. Use these bills for family members who would be used to spending Chinese currency.
Joss Paper Money – Hong Kong Dollar
These Hell Bank Notes are printed to resemble the Hong Kong Dollar, each of the 3 included designs is decorated with an image of the Jade Emperor in a 100, 500 or 1000 dollar denomination.
Joss Paper Money – Bank of Heaven and Earth
These Hell Bank Notes are printed to resemble currency from the traditional “Bank of Heaven and Earth,” each of the 6 included designs is decorated with an image of the Jade Emperor and auspicious symbols like gold ingots, dragons and peonies.
Joss Paper Money – Bank of Heaven and Earth – Small
These Hell Bank Notes are printed to resemble currency from the traditional “Bank of Heaven and Earth,” each sheet is decorated with an image of the Jade Emperor in a 50,000,000 dollar denomination.
Joss Paper Money – Bank of Heaven and Earth – XL
Measuring 17″ x 7.5″, these notes are just about the largest joss paper currency you can find. Each of the 2 included designs is decorated with an image of the Jade Emperor and auspicious symbols like gold ingots, a sailing ship and peonies.
300 Piece Joss Paper Money Collection
This 300 piece collection is appropriate for funerals, ancestor birthdays and holidays like the Qingming Festival and the Hungry Ghost Festival. The set includes bills resembling the U.S. Dollar, the Chinese Yuan and the Hong Kong Dollar.
Joss Paper Crafts
Contemporary joss paper sets are intended to send ancestors the luxuries they lacked while living. That’s why you’ll see joss paper houses, cars, servants, airplane tickets and flat-screen TVs. No extravagance is too large.
Joss Paper Crafts – Male
This box of essentials is designed to provide a male family member with everything needed in the afterlife, including a mobile phone, wallet, credit card, glasses, a watch, a lighter and belt.
Joss Paper Crafts – Female
This box of essentials is designed to provide a female family member with everything needed in the afterlife, including a watch, jade bracelet, gold bracelet, lighter, necklace and ring.
Complete Ceremonial Joss Paper Set
A complete ceremonial joss paper set suitable for funerals, birthdays and major festivals. Each set includes joss paper squares, bamboo money, Hell Bank Notes, good fortune papers, joss sticks, candles and spirit papers.
HT: Photo by Prafulla.