Temple festival in Taipei with hundred years of history draws the pious and curious

The miaohui held by the Bangka Qingshan Temple is joined by the locals, young students, and foreigners

The miaohui of the Bangka Qingshan Temple (艋舺青山宮) (Teng Pei-ju/Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The three-day miaohui (廟會) or temple festival held by the Bangka Qingshan Temple (艋舺青山宮) began on Thursday with crowds joining the procession led by the King of Qingshan (青山靈安尊王) to tour Wanhua District of Taipei City.

The miaohui of the Bangka Qingshan Temple was initiated in 1905 and is one of the three largest temple festivals in the capital. 

Over the years, the miaohui has remained one of the most important events for the locals, even though it previously faced some challenges of governmental restrictions under the Japanese colonial government and the nationalist regime after WWII.

Mr. Huang, a retiree who has never lived outside of Wanhua District, spoke with a Taiwan News reporter and said he had been taking part in the Qingshan Temple miaohui since he was a child. 

Even though the miaohui of the Qingshan Temple was recognized by the Ministry of Culture as an important cultural asset for the country in 2010 and it has been promoted as such ever since, Huang thinks the atmosphere of the miaohui has been changing. 

"Take the outdoor banquets as an example. In the past, every household would prepare some food to give away during the miaohui. Nowadays the outdoor banquets are not as impressive as they used to be," said Huang.

Nevertheless, the procession still attracts a large crowd. It begins in the afternoon each day and ends at around midnight. The course of the procession covers several hundred meters and makes temporary stops at dozens of temples and shrines in the district.

University professors often bring their students to join the procession for field research, and many foreigners are also drawn to it.

Daniel, an Englishman, said it was the fourth time for him to participate in the miaohui of the Bangka Qingshan Temple. 

Wearing the customary uniform that he received from his friends at the temple, Daniel looked totally immersed in the procession.

Already having years of miaohui experience, Daniel recalled that his first experience of a miaohui procession took place five years ago in Kaohsiung.

"It was very strange," said Daniel, adding that he saw a lot of activities mixed together, and he was fond of the dancing performed by the Ba Jia Jiang (八家將). 

The Ba Jia Jiang are bodyguards of the highest ranked god of a temple, represented by members of the temple bearing weapons, and wearing traditional customs and stern-looking makeup.

With dozens of temple talismans strung on his backpack showing how many temples he has visited, Daniel said he was running a website on which he writes about the gods and temples of Taiwan.

Apart from gods originating from religions and folk beliefs, the procession is also accompanied by traditional music groups and a huge amount of firecrackers that are set off along the way.

On the third day, the miaohui will culminate with a grand celebration joined by other temples and performing groups such as singers and pole dancers on Taiwanese stage trucks. 

People are welcomed to join the miaohui, and can use Google Map for real-time updates of the procession's location. They can also head to the Facebook page of the temple to view live streaming of the day's activities. 

All photos were taken by Teng Pei-ju from Taiwan News.