Joss Paper (Spirit Money)

Relationship: Child of im/migrant
(Image courtesy of
(Image courtesy of

For many Chinese immigrants, continuing the custom of ancestor worship is extremely important. Joss paper, or spirit money, is white and gold bamboo paper that is used at funerals or visits to grave sites and are to be burned so that our ancestors may use them in the afterlife. I was first introduced to joss paper when my grandmother passed away in 2007. For two whole days, my family and I would fold the joss paper into the shape of gold ingots. In this way, the paper could symbolically represent money. During my grandmother’s funeral ceremony, the paper we had so painstakingly folded was burned in large bundles, the smoke rising high into the sky so that my grandmother could receive the money in heaven.

Although I have often viewed this practice as a pointless and backwards custom, I have come to appreciate the sense of family that comes along with ancestor worship. Now that I am older, I realize that immigration has separated my parents from their motherland and their original ancestral grave sites. Through the burning of joss paper, they can continue to be in touch with their blood lineage. While my siblings and I have been born into a completely different culture than those of my parents or grandparents, I have often felt the influence of my Chinese identity. My parents wish for me and my siblings to not become completely “Americanized,” and I hope that I may eventually come to terms with both my identities.

Place(s): China

– Christopher Chiang

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant