Taiwan family helps keep hand-made 'joss paper' tradition alive

In this Taiwanese workshop, women adorn sheet after sheet of yellow joss paper with gold and silver leaf and red paint to satisfy last orders for sacrificial cash offerings ahead of next month's Lunar New Year festival

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1/26/2022 2:40:00 PM

In this Taiwanese workshop, women adorn sheet after sheet of yellow joss paper with gold and silver leaf and red paint to satisfy last orders for sacrificial cash offerings ahead of next month's Lunar New Year festival

Painstakingly, women of retirement age adorn sheet after sheet of yellow joss paper with gold and silver leaf and red paint to satisfy last orders for sacrificial cash offerings ahead of next month's Lunar New Year festival.

"I will continue making joss paper until I can't move anymore," said Chen, the third-generation owner of his family's business in northwestern Taiwan's Miaoli.Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.comRegisterAltogether, the Chens have been making joss paper for around 100 years.

Joss paper, also known as "spirit money", is one of the most common offerings in Taiwan, burned at temples and outside homes to honour deities and ancestors while praying for many children, prosperity and longevity.It is used during all holidays in Taiwan - Chen says there is only one month of downtime in a year - with the most offerings made during Lunar New Year and the "ghost month", or the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

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Taiwan's Chen Kun-huei, 82, is determined to keep alive an ancient tradition of making the "joss paper" by hand even as others have shifted to automated production at factories. "I will continue making joss paper until I can't move anymore," said Chen, the third-generation owner of his family's business in northwestern Taiwan's Miaoli. Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com Register Altogether, the Chens have been making joss paper for around 100 years. Joss paper, also known as "spirit money", is one of the most common offerings in Taiwan, burned at temples and outside homes to honour deities and ancestors while praying for many children, prosperity and longevity. It is used during all holidays in Taiwan - Chen says there is only one month of downtime in a year - with the most offerings made during Lunar New Year and the "ghost month", or the seventh month of the lunar calendar. "There are just too many temples in Taiwan," said Chen's daughter, Chen Miao-fang, explaining why demand for joss paper remains high. After growing up in and around the workshop, Miao-fang is now in charge of taking orders. The Chens' way of making joss paper is fading quickly due to a lack of people willing to do the repetitive work and competition from big commercial printers producing cheaper, colourful alternatives. Only a few other workshops also still make the sacrificial paper by hand. "In the future this might all be replaced by machines," Miao-fang said, looking around wistfully at the family's small-scale operation. For now, the Chens have a loyal base of customers who value the high quality of their product. The week-long Lunar New Year holiday begins on Monday in Taiwan. (This story corrected terminology to "joss paper") Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com Register Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Karishma Singh and Tom Hogue Our Standards: More from Reuters Daily Briefing Subscribe to our daily curated newsletter to receive the latest exclusive Reuters coverage delivered to your inbox. Sign up