Sometimes travel is mostly about luck, and on my recent trip to Kinmen luck was definitely on my side. As I entered Kinmen via a ferry from Xiamen and sat down with the shy guy in the welcoming Tourist Information Center it took a few minutes of pushing him with questions for him to finally tell me ‘oh, you want Taiwan temple culture? really? so we have big festival this week’. A few searches on the Internet, few sketches on the map, and I was set. I had the laydown for the weekly plan of the most important annual festival on Kinmen Island – the City God Birthday Festival.

Living in Tainan for over a year I’ve seen my fair share of crazy festivals, with anything from the mandatory fireworks, huge Gods walking down the streets, and Taiwanese opera and puppetry all the way up to spicy girls taking their clothes off poll dancing, on-stage sex performances and men spanking themselves till blood spilled on the road. Still, that City God birthday celebrations was a lovely pleasant surprise.

 

 

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (43)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (48)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (52)

Yep, that first photo guy had a knife piercing through his cheeks. Lovely. I was made to understand he’s the representative of one of the daemons, mini-Gods, or whatever you call them, who is in charge of approving the other smaller Gods in the parade wanting to pay tribute to the city God. Some he would accept, others he would reject, I could tell why. It’s all so random and complicated to a foreign bystander.

 

Though the main events definitely took place in Jincheng Town, I’ll start off from the smaller Jinsha Shaobei celebrations. I rode my rented motorcycle all the way north-east and already a few kilometers away I could hear the massive explosions. It was a humble parade, compared to what I saw the next day, but it was also a more authentic local celebration, with the locals constantly moving from being bystanders to participants and back. When you have a celebration like that, everyone’s in it. I stopped counting the number of times I was almost forced into carrying those Gods on my shoulders and putting on the God suit.

 

There’s surprisingly very little English about those festivities, and throughout the celebrations I could see any non-local visitors. But, still, here’s a bit from a government website :

Although Kinmen is quite a small island, it has over three hundred shrines and temples. Since the sea surrounds it on all sides, and in the past the people relied almost entirely on it for survival, the islanders have traditionally regarded making offerings to the gods as of utmost importance.

   The tour of the Wudao city god to other temples and shrines has become a grand event on Kinmen. The city god is simply the god that is set up within a city to protect it. The original idea of protecting the city has also, with time, been extended to include the city, its walls and the surrounding moat. Gods of other local shrines and temples in this festival also visit the city god. Over the years he has also been incorporated in ceremonies wishing for rain, requesting fair weather, and asking for good fortune and protection from disasters.

Lonely Planet offers a bit more :

Folk events, such as grand smoky festivals for the gods, have also regained momentum. Or, more accurately, funding. The ‘Welcoming the City God’ parade, a mass pilgrimage of costumed and merry-making devotees across the wooded countryside, is centuries old. But it was only two years ago that anyone outside Kinmen had heard about it (through some well-placed advertorials no less). It would be easy to write that the event is now in danger of losing its authenticity, but for a Taiwanese community, when the times are good, the festivals should be even better. And the gods themselves wouldn’t settle for anything less.

WantChinaTimes has a bit more about the background :

The theme of the Wudao festival is to celebrate the birthday of Cheng Huang, the island’s city god, on April 12 of the lunar calendar. During the festival, Kinmen natives who have moved away will return home to join the temple fair to pray for peace. Village people will parade the streets along the town’s border with statues of deities to scare off wandering evil spirits. They will beat drums and gongs at a deafening pitch to frighten away ghosts.

The Wudao festival has been a tradition for almost 400 years, since the Ming Dynasty. It was only interrupted during the most intense years of confrontation between the Kuomintang and China’s Communist Party. Kinmen is Taiwan’s closest territory to mainland China.

Although Kinmen is a small island, it has more than 300 shrines and temples. The Wudao Festival is the largest temple festival of its kind, featuring folk operas, arts groups, gong-and-drum performances and puppet shows.

And, lastly :

Kinship and clans have played a very important role on Kinmen. […] The biggest of Kinmen’s annual folk festivals is the one held to celebrate the birthday of the island’s Town God, protector of the island, on the twelfth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar. On the day, the Town God, accompanied by deities invited from the countryside and devout worshippers holding burning incense, patrol the streets to frighten away evil spirits and ghosts in the deafening sounds of gongs and drums. Every household of the town prepares rich offerings, and invites their good friends and relatives from the countryside to join the celebration. In addition, folk performances such horse-formation performance, gong-and-drum -formation performance, puppet show presentation, and local opera presentation all add spice to the activity.(Temple Fairs)

Cheng-Huang Miao (City God Temple) was built in every administrative center since Min Dynasty. There are three temples of the City God in Kinmen.  Cheng-Huan in Tien-pu, Chinsha, is the oldest. Kinmen-Cheng was the administrative center in Min Daasty.  Cheng-Huang Miao was built there.  In 1682, it was transferred to Ho-po, Kinchen.  The day of the move was on the 12th of April in the Chinese lunar calendar.  It has been the anniversary of Cheng-Huang ever since.

April 12th of the lunar calendar is considered one of the important days by Kinmeness.  The majority of people come back to Kinmen to celebrate the special day.  Cheng-Huang Miao is crowded with worshipers.  Celebrations include worship, parades, operas and folk performances.  Residents in Ho-po feast their friends and relatives on that day.(金城國中課程教案設計表 / 編寫者:張浩然,羅毓華)

Although Kinmen is quite a small island, it has over three hundred shrines and temples. Since the sea surrounds it on all sides, and in the past the people relied almost entirely on it for survival, the islanders have traditionally regarded making offerings to the gods as of utmost importance.

The tour of the Wudao city god to other temples and shrines has become a grand event on Kinmen. The city god is simply the god that is set up within a city to protect it. The original idea of protecting the city has also, with time, been extended to include the city, its walls and the surrounding moat. Gods of other local shrines and temples in this festival also visit the city god. Over the years he has also been incorporated in ceremonies wishing for rain, requesting fair weather, and asking for good fortune and protection from disasters

 

For a  horrible 10 minutes video capture through my mobile, check this :

 

 

Some photos…

 

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (50)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (2)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (4)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (7)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (19)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (23)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (60)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (8)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (11)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (12)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (18)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (22)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (26)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (28)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (32)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (35)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (46)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (50)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (51)

Jinsha Shaobei City God Festival - Kinmen Island (54)

 

Had a blast. More to come on the crazy Jincheng Town celebrations.



Tags: buddhism; celebrations; city god; daoism; jinsha; Kinmen Island; parade; shaobei; Taiwan; taiwan culture; taiwanese culture; taoism; temple; Welcoming the City God; Wudao festival;


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Great article, thanks! I traveled to Kinmen a couple weeks ago and loved it. I hope to see this festival, which I figured out to be May 29 (2015), though I’m not sure. Is this festival just one day, or does it last longer?

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