Taiwanese family helps carry on the tradition of handmade ‘joss paper’

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MIAOLI, Taiwan, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Women of retirement age painstakingly adorn sheet after sheet of yellow incense paper with gold and silver leaf and red paint to meet the latest orders for sacrificial cash offerings ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year festival.

Chen Kun-huei, 82, from Taiwan, is determined to keep alive an ancient tradition of manual “joss paper” making, even as others have moved to automated production in factories.

“I will continue to make incense paper until I can’t move,” said Chen, the third-generation owner of the family business in Miaoli, northwest Taiwan.

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In total, the Chen people have been making incense paper for about 100 years.

Joss paper, also known as “spiritual money”, is one of the most common offerings in Taiwan, burned in temples and outside homes to honor deities and ancestors while praying for many children, prosperity and longevity.

It’s used during all holidays in Taiwan – Chen says there’s only one month off per year – with most offers made during Lunar New Year and “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 incense paper remains high. After growing up in and around the workshop, Miao-fang is now in charge of taking orders.

The way the Chens made joss paper was quickly fading due to a lack of people willing to do the repetitive work and competition from large commercial printers producing colorful, cheaper alternatives. Only a few other workshops still make the sacrificial paper by hand.

“In the future, all of this might be replaced by machines,” Miao-fang said, looking around wistfully at the small family farm. For now, the Chens have a loyal customer base who appreciate the high quality of their product.

The week-long Lunar New Year holiday begins Monday in Taiwan.

(This story corrected terminology to “joss paper”)

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Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Written by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Karishma Singh and Tom Hogue

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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