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Jubilant celebration marks the 154th Keelung Ghost Festival

The Kuo clan float enters the evening parade on August 14.
An offering for the sacrificial rite on August 15.
Clansmen make final preparations before the water lanterns are released into the water. Below, Clansmen carry the lantern from a hill down to the beac...
Kuo clansmen dress in ancient warriors uniforms and march in the evening parade.

The Kuo clan float enters the evening parade on August 14.

Keye Chang

An offering for the sacrificial rite on August 15.

Clansmen make final preparations before the water lanterns are released into the water. Below, Clansmen carry the lantern from a hill down to the beac...

Keye Chang

Kuo clansmen dress in ancient warriors uniforms and march in the evening parade.

The Keelung Ghost Festival is a long-established folk religious event, which is hosted in turn by 15 clans in the Keelung area. The hosting clan this year is the Kuo Clan Association.
The boisterous parade lasted around three hours from 7 to 10p.m., with parade teams lined up on Yiyi and Yierh Roads for several kilometers. A total of 32 organizations participated in the parade, providing more than 130 performing acts.
Festival organizers Kuo Clan Association alone furnished provided nearly twenty groups of performers in the parade. To honor the ancestors of the Kuo clan, the association chose the famous historic figure Kuo Tze-yi, a famous general during the Tang Dynasty of the 7th century, as its representative figure in designing the festival logo.
The Kuo clan also presented a “Kuo Tze-yi” float and a march of ancient soldiers led by five actors dressed in ancient uniforms and featuring the general riding five horses. The Kuo clan went all the way to China to rent theater costumes which were sent to Taiwan especially for the parade performance.
The releasing of water lanterns also attracted several thousand tourists to come to the northeastern coast of Wanghaihsiang, near the border of Keelung City and Taipei County. All of the water lanterns sailed successfully across the water to be lit by a torch and burned into ashes.
Water lanterns are set afire and burned to ashes in order to offer a shelter for departed souls who once lost their lives in coldly violent water. Local folklore also suggests that the longer a burning lantern sails on the water, the more luck it will bring to the lantern patron in the coming year.
Tourist-oriented activities
The great popularity of the Keelung Ghost Festival, which has attracted dozens thousand of tourists in recent years, has won this program more and more recognition from public sector through financial backing for the programs. In recent years the Keelung City Government has also designed an increasing number of cultural and tourist-oriented programs during Ghost Month to help promote the Ghost Festival.
Festival art director Chiang Cheng-yao points out that hosting the festival is an expensive proposition, costing up to NT$10,000,000.(about US$300,000). Although various government departments provide financial subsidies for festival organizers, hosting the festival is still a serious financial burden for the hosting clan, especially to smaller clans such as the Kuo Clan, which numbers only around 300 clansmen.
There was good reason for the CCA to name the Keelung Ghost Festival as a major national folk event and offer financial subsidies for the festival. This folk religious event has been continuously held for 153 years now, including even the height of World War II, and it is the largest of its kind in Taiwan. It is also rare to find anywhere else in Taiwan a city or township willing to build up a dedicated large altar to be used in Ghost Festival for sacrificial rites. These magnificent towers built in traditional style of Chinese architecture are easy to spot as they stand at the doorway of Keelung Railway Station. This year the CCA has also spent NT$2 million to have all the rituals and activities documented for the film archives of the CCA.
Opening the Gates
At noon on the first day of the seventh lunar month, the gates of the tower, near which sit the ash urns of 19th century Keelung residents, are opened up in order to allow the departed souls come to the living world.
On the morning of the tenth day of the seventh lunar month, bamboo trees at least 12 meters tall are set up at Chupu Temple, with lanterns and Taoist spells hanging on the trees to inform the spiritual world that a sacrificial rite with sacrificial items will be held to feast them.
On the afternoon of the 13th day of the seventh lunar month, a parade in honor of the 15 clans hosting the festival is held in downtown Keelung, and every clan shows off their prepared performances and floats for the parade.
The climax of the festival is an evening parade at downtown and the subsequent release of water lanterns on the northeast coast in the evening of the 14th day of the seventh lunar month.. The water lantern is a well-decorated house model made from paper and bamboo sticks. People release these house models on the ocean surface then set them on fire, hoping that those who have lost their lives in cold, violent water can finally find shelter in the ocean.
Ghost Money
Before the water lanterns are released to the sea, the house-shaped lanterns will first stuffed and fully loaded with "ghost money." The "ghost money" is a sacrificial item made from bamboo fibers as sheets of paper, and they are used by departed souls as allowance money. Before the water lanterns are released into the water, Taoist priests are also called on to conduct blessing rituals. The release of water lanterns in Keelung usually takes place in the costal area of "Wanhaihsian" near the border between Keelung City and Taipei County.
The afternoon of the 15th day of the seventh lunar month is Chongyuan Festival, a day when many households hold the sacrificial rite "Pudu" by setting up a table laden with sacrificial foods and drinks next to the street.
In Keelung, many households go to Chingan Temple to hold the "Pudu" rather than holding it outside their residence. At 5p.m. on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, the festival organizers set up a sacrificial rite at the altar of Chupu Temple. The sacrificial rites at Chupu Temple are the largest Pudu on that day.
Late in the night of the 15th day of the seventh month, another important ritual at Chupu Temple is the ghost-expelling dance "tiao chung kuei" which is performed by a Taoist priest. After offering a luxuriant "Pudu" feast to serve the departed souls, a ghost-expelling dance is performed to remind the unseen spirits that they should return to their unseen world at the end of the seventh lunar month, and not linger in the world of the living.
For the final ritual of the Ghost Festival, everyone returns to the Old Venerable Temple where the priests, clansmen and government officials attend the gate-closing ceremony at 5 p.m. on the first day of the eighth lunar month. The gate closing signifies that Ghost Month is officially ended and that all unseen souls should return to their world. The folklore expert and also Senior of the Lan Clan, Lan Te-chun, says the reason the gate-closing takes place in the afternoon of the first day of the eighth lunar month instead of 12 midnight is because the temple manager and clansmen wish to allow one day's grace to the unseen souls, knowing they might be late for some unexpected reason just like every one else.


Updated : 2021-08-02 05:35 GMT+08:00