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Burning ritual sparks controversy

Update: November, 20/2014 - 08:29
In a different light: A report said the ritual costs the people billions of Vietnamese dong every year. — Photo duongsinh.net

THUA THIEN - HUE (VNS) — Researchers in the former royal capital city of Hue are objecting to a recent ban on the custom of burning votive paper offerings.

"Authorities can work to make the burning go correctly rather than prohibit residents from doing their custom and belief practices. The burning is part of our culture," researcher Ho Tan Phan said.

In August, the city authorities issued a ban on burning votive offerings along several major streets in the city.

Tran Dai Vinh, deputy chairman of Hue's Fatherland Front Committee, said that the custom was introduced into Viet Nam during early feudal times and was unrelated to Vietnamese religion.

The superstitious practice was adopted by the emperors who wanted to protect their power and continues to this day.

"In the contemporary market economy, many businessmen and top officials burn votive offerings in hope to protect their wealth and position," he said.

Hue-based Buddhist monk Vien Chieu confirmed that the practice was not connected to Buddhist teachings.

"No Buddhist theory refers to the custom," he said.

Most Vietnamese burn paper objects resembling real ones as offerings to their ancestors. The burning usually takes place on anniversaries of death, Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) and on the fifth and last day of the lunar month.

The most popular papers for burning are simple sheets resembling bank notes, gold and silver. There are also more complicated varieties styled like clothing, shoes, conical hats and umbrellas. Today, these paper items reflect modern society, including smartphones, motorbikes, luxurious cars, houses and even servants and concubines.

The city has 226 workshops producing votive paper items, creating jobs for 356 workers. However, a municipal economic division report said the practice costs the people billions of Vietnamese dong every year.

Deputy chairman of the city People's Committee Nguyen Dang Thanh said the city should raise taxes on votive paper production and ban the burning in several areas.

However, researcher Buu Y said convincing residents to limit burning of offerings was a better way to deal with the problem.

Head of the city culture and information division Nguyen Dang Thang said first of all the restriction should be applied to party members, government officials and civil servants. — VNS

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