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Hell money: continued

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In July 2016, a Louisiana collector who'd seen this article sent me some scans of his own most interesting Hell banknotes, together with a few comments on what made them so special. I've used the scans and information in his letter to create this special PlanetSlade bonus page.

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'My dad got mad at me for calling it Hell money'

Although many young Asians continue to use Hell notes today, they generally do so out of respect for family tradition rather than any literal belief in the notes' power.
         That's certainly what a group of anthropology students found when they interviewed a young Vietnamese woman burning Hell notes at a Taoist temple in California. Their interview also gives an intriguing glimpse into how different generations of the same family view this custom. This became clear from the students' very first question: "What is Hell money?"
         "It's not Hell money, it's Heaven money," the young woman replied. "My dad got mad at me for calling it Hell money. (17)
         "I personally don't believe in Heaven money and all the other stuff that goes along with it, but I know it meant a lot to my Grandma, so I was mainly doing it for her and other members of my family. All I know is that my mom made me do it, and she told me the money floated up to Heaven for Grandma to use."
         At this point, the young woman's mother came over to see what was going on, and the students were able to interview her too. "I have done the same thing my parents and their parents did before," she explained. "We pray for the dead person to give us good luck and good health. We burn Heaven money and paper clothes on the anniversary of the death.
         "Burning Heaven money is mostly religious, but it can be somewhat of a cultural thing also. They use the money to buy a Prada suit or something." (18)
         The other young people burning Hell money at the same temple gave very similar answers to this woman's daughter, placing them more in the cultural camp than the mother's religious one. For those without this family's traditions to follow, it may be popular culture like gaming and TV which provides their only encounter with Hell money.
         The 2012 video game Sleeping Dogs: Murder at North Point, for example, asks players to collect Hell money from various hidden shrines in Hong Kong. The game itself pits cops against supernatural gangsters, so you can see how Hell notes fit its theme.
         The X-Files has used these banknotes in one of its own plots too. In the season three episode Hell Money, Fox Mulder finds the charred remains of a Hell note on a murder victim's body in San Francisco's Chinatown, and it provides a vital clue.
         Told by local detective Glen Chao that only a few shops in Chinatown sell the Hell money - a fact I can vouch for myself - Mulder replies: "That's good. Maybe we just found a way to identify the body." (19)
         Nielsen ratings show this particular episode of The X-Files was watched by close to 15m people on its first airing alone, giving Hell notes what's almost certainly their biggest exposure yet to a mainstream western audience. Factor in repeats, syndication and video/DVD sales too, and that number would be much higher.
        I've also seen pictures of Hell notes featuring actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and James Dean. Another set concentrates on dead world leaders, presenting the unlikely quintet of John F Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and Ho Chi Minh.

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