TAIPEI (Taiwan News) - On the 24th day of the 6th month of the lunar calendar every year, a jubilant parade in celebration of the birthday of Guan Yu (關羽), the Taoist God of War, unites locals to perform spectacular dragon and lion dances in groups throughout the town of Daxi, Taoyuan.
This year, glittering parades are running in tandem with the performances not only on this day, but also on weekends in the 6th lunar month as the local government is promoting the cultural event as a weeks-long festival surrounding the Puji Temple (普濟堂), which was built in 1902 and enshrines Guan Yu and several other Taoist deities, to attract local and international tourists. The weeks-long event ended on August 5 this year.
The dragon dance performance in front of the Puji Temple. (YouTube Video by George Liao)
The parade and performances all together are called temple fair, which has a history of more than one hundred years, with more than 30 local performing clubs, also known as "Shetou" (社頭), participating in the fair every year.
The clubs comprise members from all walks of life from different parts of the town, including business people, farmers, artists, musicians, police offices, fire fighters and students. Each club has its unique performing style and costume.
Three clubs - Shin-shen Club (新勝社), Da-yo Club (大有社), and Shing-an Club (興安社) - are also celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. Shin-shen Club is known for its signature performance "Double Dragon," which involves two troupes of dancers intertwining their dragons.
The Shin-shen Club was established 100 years ago by local mine workers in the remote Santseng district of Daxi, Taoyuan, and today its club members comprise the third generations of these mine workers. Most of the members have full time jobs outside the town in Taipei or Taoyuan City. The club strives to survive over the past decades in the face of population shrinkage as later generations are moving out to adjacent cities for more employment opportunities. To retain younger generations to jointly sustain the cultural heritage, seniors in Santseng district are offering initiatives such as a scholarship to attract quality members to join the club.
Local residents were praying for blessing in a small ritual hosted by Shin-shen Club as part of the temple fair activity. (Photo courtesy of 新勝社)
Nicknamed the rich people's club, Da-yo Club was established by local elites and business people. The club was the first of its kind that introduced western instruments into the parade in Daxi. This year, the club incorporates samba drums and street dance into the traditional temple procession that used to perform Peikuan music.
(Photo courtesy of 大有社)
Shing-an Club is comprised of businessmen and retailers on Daxi Street, and is known for carrying a large abacus and several other interesting large props in the parade. The club is delving into the cultural and creative business by launching crafts and souvenirs printed with the club logo. It also promotes the Daxi shetou and temple fair cultures in the form of storytelling as well as screen printing by hosting workshops.
(Photo courtesy of 興安社)
With strong support from the local community and local government, the Shetou culture and temple fair in Daxi is thriving and is getting more attention as well as visits from international tourists year by year. The locals are hoping that other younger clubs in the town can also withstand the threats from a shrinking and aging population, to jointly revive the cultural heritage that unites people of all ages and all walks of life together through the shared objective.