What you need to know
The Thai amulet trade is growing in Hong Kong, making waves in China, and has factions in Singapore and Malaysia.
Hong Kong is no stranger to ghost stories. With ancestral worship woven deeply into its social fabric, and with superstitions around hauntings dramatically impacting house prices, beliefs that the paranormal penetrate everyday life prevail in modern Hong Kong.
South China has also always been a melting point of religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs that speak to the region’s receptivity when it comes to assimilating aspects of diverging belief systems.
Daoist, Confucian, Buddhist beliefs all found their way into the cultural landscape, and form a textured background that sits strangely next to the modern-day prevalence of evangelical Christianity that stands in opposition to the profane spirit world of animistic beliefs.
But a relatively new phenomenon that is taking Hong Kong by storm is that of Thai Occult stores, which sell amulets pertaining to a belief system in which ghosts are called upon by the living for assistance. They are said to help with a vast range of woes, from offering financial assistance to playing cupid.
Since around 2008, more and more stores selling amulets that supposedly contain Thai spirts have sprung up across Hong Kong. They contain objects that sell at prices upwards of HK$1000 (US$130) and have been spotted on local celebrities including Jackie Chan.
From a handful of stores doubling as temples dotted around the city to over fifty outlets expected to exist across the city, the prevalence of these amulet dealers speaks to a growing demand for spiritual salves in trying times.
With a key demographic being working class Hongkongers hit by the financial crisis, experts say that what is novel about this belief system for the Chinese is how it invites close interaction between the living and the spirt world.
Containing spirits in need of redemption, these amulets that are on sale in Thai occult stores are supposedly consecrated by monks in Thailand. The amulets or objects, which range from little trinkets, to decorated tins and small statuettes, to toy dolls, serve as vessels for lost souls.
What makes them unusual in a Chinese cultural context is that, traditionally, while Chinese spiritual beliefs certainly include ghosts, they do not prescribe the close, symbiotic relationship with them. The act of invoking spirits and asking for their assistance is not perceived as advisable.
In fact, individuals who call upon “yin forces” to do their bidding are expected to have to repay them at a later date, such that they might stand the risk of having their life curtailed in return for the favor.
Despite this dissonance between Chinese and Thai conceptions of how one should interact with the spirit world, the Thai occult has risen in popularity owing in part to the sense of potency many Hongkongers ascribe to the Thai ghosts.
Anthropologists say that what makes Thai spirituality particularly alluring are their associations with the rapidly developing country as “primitive” and “other,” in a similar vein to beliefs surrounding “gypsies” in Europe.
Others note that Thailand has long been a deeply spiritual country of complex, esoteric beliefs that are only now garnering worldwide attention. While the Thai amulet trade is growing in Hong Kong, it is also making waves in China, has factions in Singapore and Malaysia and is also available on e-stores father further afield.
Editor: Edward White