• Eliza Chan

Joss Papers for Porcelain Ghosts

Pareidolia, an anthology edited by James Everington and Dan Howarth, was launched at Edge Lit last weekend by Black Shuck Books. Sadly I couldn’t go to  the launch but was happy to receive my copy of the anthology later in the week.

My story “Joss Papers for Porcelain Ghosts” was published in it and I’m really hoping some of you will have a chance to read it.

This story features gwei in every sense of the word.


~nagging relatives

~Cantonese cuisine

~joss sticks

~diaspora feels

I’ve actually written stories about faces before. Kaonashi is free to read over at Expanded Horizons and I wrote about it in another blog post here.

Faces are important. We read so much into facial expressions, we assume so much by what we see before us. It’s one of the first things we say when we meet a friend’s baby: “they look like…” Our faces are our outward presentation to the world throughout our lives.  And what of those who look different?

Here are some thoughts that shaped the genesis of “Joss Papers for Porcelain Ghosts”.  I strongly suggest you read the story before reading this blog entry, but in case you don’t, this is a fairly spoiler-free ramble.

The call about pareidolia immediately made me think of childhood. I used to see a lot of faces. I was allowed to watch scary films a little too young and also had a love-hate fascination with Robin Jarvis novels. This culminated in that strange twilight time in childhood when you chase the nightmares. When there were monsters sleeping in the bottom half of the bed, faces in carpet and someone behind you breathing on your neck. You know what else gave me nightmares? The jars of shrivelled brown roots and dried molluscs that were better suited to an alchemist’s shop, but in our household,  rendered into mere ingredients for herbal soups.  But some things I did like: particularly joss sticks and joss papers. It was a winning combination of origami, pyromania and for me, fantastical stories.

The word “gwei” literally means ghost. It is also a somewhat derogatory term for a Westerner. I really wanted to utilise this in the story.  On my last trip to Hong Kong however, I noticed that some ex-pats had lovingly reclaimed the term and were happy to use it themselves.

And finally, the blue and white pottery 青花 that’s ubiquitous in its association with China and china, was made popular mostly by exports to Europe. I keep seeing it everywhere since I wrote this story: in the background in TV interviews, films,  in people’s houses, restaurants, museums, charity shops.

I don’t know how I ended up mashing these ideas together, but I did. I hope you enjoy the result.

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