Hell money is a special and modern form of joss paper. It is paper offering printed in the style of western bank notes. Hell money has large denominations, ranging from $10,000 to $500,000,000! On every bill, an image of the Jade Emperor is featured.... and his very western signature! :)
This paper money is burned so that our dead ancestors would have money to spend in the afterworld. These days, there are even credit cards and cheques!
The living believed Hell money can be used by the dead as a tribute to the Emperor of Hell for a shorter stay or to escape punishment.
Carefully packed offerings for ancestor worship,
To the Chinese, Hell does not carry a negative connotation. Hell is an in between place of learning, a place for spirits waiting to be reborn. It is another dimension of life. There is a maze of underground levels and chambers where souls are taken to atone for their earthly sins. All who die will automatically enter Hell to be judged before either being sent to Heaven, or for further punishment in the underworld, or to be reincarnated.
When burning the notes, treat them as real money. They should not be casually tossed into the fire. Each bank note may be folded in a specific way before being tossed into the fire. It is believed that burning real money brings bad luck.
As kids, we were very fascinated with the Hell money but wasn't allowed to play with it. Every festive celebrations, we had to help our grandmother fold Hell money. Now, I'm folding Hell money to burn to my beloved grandmother and other ancestors.
I'm a Christian and have been chided by some church elders and members for doing such 'sinful' and unchristian-like things.
I'm a Chinese and I have my cultural customs to observe. My ancestors weren't Christians and if there is an afterlife, I have to ensure they don't suffer. It has nothing to do with religion. It has a lot to do with our Chinese roots, preserving our Chinese traditions and values and promoting filial piety.