Dragon Boat Festival is an important event in Chinese lunar calendar. It is celebrated during the summer solstice, which is on the 5th day of the 5th month. The story of Dragon Boat Festival started during the Warring States Period (戰國 481 BC-221 BC). During this time Emperor Shi (始皇帝)managed to unite China under the powerful Qin Dynasty (秦朝). A small kingdom named Chu (楚) was also seeking ally with Qin. One of Chu’s statesmen named Qu Yuan (屈原) disagreed with this idea. By opposing the Emperor of Chu, Qu Yuan was declared a traitor and banished from the kingdom. Broken hearted, Qu Yuan then committed suicide by jumping into the river. The people of Chu were devastated for the loss of their beloved statesman. To prevent the fish and other aquatic creatures from eating Qu Yuan’s corpse, the people threw rice dumplings called zongzi (粽子) into the river. Some people also took boats and rowed along the river, searching for Qu Yuan’s body. Thus, the beginning of Dragon Boat Festival.
Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by making zongzi and of course, the Dragon Boat race. But before the race begins, an opening ceremony is held a week before. In central Taiwan the spot for holding the race is in an old town called Lugang (鹿港). Lugang literally means ‘deer port’ is located in Changhua County, 1 hour drive from Taichung City. Lugang’s golden age was during the rule of Qing Dynasty (清朝1644-1912) where Lugang acted as the second largest port in Taiwan after Tainan. Lugang’s culture is heavily influenced by Fujian culture as many businessmen emigrated from Fujian Province to Lugang. It is sprawled with old buildings such as temples, shops, and houses. In this city every year on summer solstice Central Taiwan celebrates Dragon Boat Festival.
First people gather in front of Longshan Temple (龍山) for the start of the ceremony. Performers are lining neatly wearing T-shirts and other uniforms from their respective performance clubs. Lion heads and dragons are put on the ground. The first performance is the ‘Dance of the Ladies’. It is a dance performed on stilts representing 8 types of common female occupations in old Lugang such as peasants, seamstresses, matchmakers, bakers, noodle makers, and so on. Uniquely, none of these ‘ladies’ is an actual woman. They are men in drag, dancing and swishing their colourful handkerchiefs on air.
Then it was followed by lion dances as well as dragon dances. None of the performers looks exhausted despite the scorching heat, everybody gives their maximum dancing and jumping around.
Suddenly everything becomes silent as the mayor of Lugang, his staff, and other important locals enter the temple to pray. Everybody waits patiently outside until they come out and give signal to start the parade, walking all the way to Mazu Temple (天后宮).
We start waking to Mazu Temple, which is about 1km from Longshan Temple. It is such a festivity. People are carrying their dragon boats, banners, and statues of deities, while spectators are watching from the sides of the street. It seems like everybody in town is out to see the parade. Locals are standing or sitting on the pavements, while tourists prefer the comfort of restaurant balconies.
After arriving at Mazu Temple, all boats are put down on the ground and turned around so their faces are looking toward the temple’s main gate. There are more praying indside the temple.
Then more walking. This time toward Lugang River where the race will be held, but not today. Today is the ceremony for blessing the boats. A huge tent is erected. The main part of the tent is where the altar is, the rest of the tent is used to store food for the participants and to provide shades for the spectators.
Inside the tent a Daoist priest is praying for the success of the ceremony, race, and the fortune to come. He takes a chicken and makes a slice on its cockscomb. Few drops of the chicken’s blood are mixed with red paints that are prepared on small saucers. The priest takes a paintbrush, dips it in the paint and chicken blood mixture, and starts writing the prayers on air.
He comes out of the tent and starts blessing the boats. Each of the red blindfolds that cover the dragons’ faces is removed, revealing blank white spots on where the pupils should be. The priest then dots red pupils on each of the dragons’ eye.
Using crates the boats are lowered on to the water. Each team mount their boat. With the rain of paper monies the boat set sail and marks the ending of the opening ceremony.