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Taiwan's Hakka 'Dragon Bombing' dance to end with a bang

The Hakka 'Dragon Bombing' tradition culminates in Taiwan's Miaoli County during the Lantern Festival.

Hakka "Dragon Bombing" (Miaoli Dragon Bombing Facebook page)

Hakka "Dragon Bombing" (Miaoli Dragon Bombing Facebook page)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Miaoli Hakka Lantern Festival's "Dragon Bombing" (火旁龍) tradition, in which dragon teams dance for fortune and glory under a maelstrom of fireworks, is one four largest Lantern Festivals in Taiwan and will be reaching its grand finale this weekend.

The Hakka people (客家人), one of Taiwan's key minorities, hold a unique festival of dancing dragons in western Taiwan's Miaoli County to mark the end of the Lunar New Year consisting of six stages: constructing the dragon, dotting its eyes, welcoming the dragon into homes and businesses, dancing the dragon, bombing the dragon, and burning the dragon.

Many Chinese communities around the world hold dragon dances to celebrate the Lunar New Year, however it is only in this community that they "bomb" the dragons. The rationale is that the more explosive the dance and the more hits the dragon gets hit by fireworks, the more luck and prosperity (愈炸愈旺) there will be for those who come close.

The Hakka community brought their tradition of "fire dragons" with them when they first arrive in Taiwan from their home in Southern China during the late Qing Dynasty, gradually started to die out in the early 20th Century. However, this latest iteration started over 50 years ago when the owner of a fabric mill invited dragon troupes in to compete for a NT$5,000 red envelope and "bombed" them with firecrackers for good luck.

Hakka Dragon Bombing tradition
(CNA photo)

In the first phase, the dragons are constructed of bamboo frames covered with fabric using different combinations of the colors red, green, blue, silver, and gold to represent the five elements in nature according to Taoist beliefs.

For the second part of the process, the gods are welcomed to embody the dragons with the dotting of their eyes by officials with red paint made from chicken blood, cinnabar and rice wine.

The dragons visit the homes of and businesses of people in the area in the third stage to bring them good luck and wealth during the coming year.

During the dancing competition phase, teams of dragon dancers compete for cash prizes and prestige and are judged on the dragon's appearance, teamwork, difficulty of maneuvers, musical accompaniment, among other factors.

The actual "bombing" of the dragons occurs after the competition is complete, when the winning teams go to the town's plaza where they dance their dragons over huge piles of firecrackers as they ignite in a cacophony of explosions and smoke.

The final stage involves the burning of the dragons on piles of joss paper to send the gods back to the spirit realm with a good amount of money to tide them over until next year.

Events related to the Dragon Bombing festival for 2017 will generally take place on Feb. 5, 10, 11 and 13. at the Miaoli City Yuching Temple Plaza (苗栗市玉清宮前廣場). Most importantly, the dragon bombing stage will take place on Feb. 2 starting at 5 p.m. at Miaoli City Riverside Park (苗栗市河濱公園) and the dragon incineration will take place on Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. at Miaoli City Wuwenchang Temple (苗栗市五文昌廟).

For more information, visit the Hakka Festivals website or the Dragon Bombing Facebook page.