Taiwan’s Temple Parades
It was the early afternoon on a bright sunny day. It must have been on the 21st of May 2016, it was a Sunday. Taiwan celebrates this as a National Holiday, called ‘Labour Day’. It is associated the start of spring as well as the celebration of workers.
A few friends and I were shopping around as we made our way out of a shopping mall in Taipei to get drinks from the bubble tea shop next door. As we were all waiting for our order, the sound gongs, pipes and the beating of huge drums, the parade music got ever louder as everyone around us overcome by the commotion.
With what then become loud detonations of fire crackers which left huge burnt black marks on the road, was very quickly covering everything in deep grey smoke. Our bubble teas were ready, so we collected them and went off to join the spectating crowds to see what was stopping all the traffic to a complete halt.
The parade, now appearing from out of the smoke, were men and women carrying banners, musicians and performers, all in cultural attire marched in formations while some carried an effigy in a palanquin, it was a photographer’s dream. We witnessed several ornate wheeled buggies and wooden sedan chairs pass by, all equipped with flashing LEDs and loudspeakers.
They made frequent stops to give godly blessings to individual businesses and households. At each halt, strings of firecrackers are donated, joss paper is burned and fireworks are launched into the sky, even though the beauty of the pyrotechnics is lost because of the bright daylight sunshine. After the rites have been concluded, the parade moves on, and so did we.
These religious practices are a common occurrence all over Taiwan, they typically take place at any time (day or night) on weekends but more so on national holidays and events. You can find all of Taiwan’s national holiday 2016 dates by clicking here.
It’s one of the many beautiful cultural perks of living in Taiwan, as even if you’ve never set foot in a Taiwanese temple, you’re bound to come across folk-religion parades. These traffic stopping events are a product of modern Taiwanese culture which blends Chinese, Austronesian, Japanese and western influences, upon which a typical temple parade begins and ends at a temple.
As Taiwan never experienced Communist oppression, visitors have the opportunity to witness their traditional religious practices and ancient customs that have disappeared from the Chinese mainland. As a result, Taiwan can be said to be ‘more traditionally Chinese than China’, but at the same time, being ‘much more than Chinese’. They still hold the strong ancient belief that the explosive sound of the firecracker can scare away evil spirits and demons, who might otherwise bring bad luck.
Offerings are seen outside many shops & businesses
Symbolic–offerings are made to the Triple Gem, giving rise to contemplative gratitude and inspiration.
Typical material offerings involve simple objects such as a lit candle or oil lamp, burning incense, flowers, food, fruit, water or drinks.
The passing performers and assisting parade members would commonly stop at each main traffic light. These are good opportunities for the parade members to let off their firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits and to be gratefully offered drinks from those making the said symbolic offerings.
The eight members (almost always men), represent four ‘infernal’ generals plus four seasonal gods (of spring, summer, fall and winter). They’re known to have a vaguely menacing attitude as they swagger along the street whilst carrying their ritual weapons.
The most important thing is to keep a respectful distance from them and don’t cross their protective line.
(First image) The Bajiajaing and (last image) The Zhentous.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might witness the ‘Bajiajaing’, roughly translated as the ‘Eight Generals performance parade’.
The Eight Generals are known to be the spiritual guardians that ward off, nab and punish evil spirits.
They are portrayed by troupes of young people with colourful costumes and makeup to depict specific generals.
One of the most eye-catching participants are known as ‘zhentou’. These performance troupes (some professional, many amateur) wear fabulous attire, walk on stilts and perform acrobatics.
Written by kristian Yngve
Hi, my name is Kristian. I came to Taiwan back in 2012 with a few business partners from Sweden to setup and run an online business in digital marketing. They have since left this country, as I stayed in beautiful Formosa to manage and grow the company.