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Keelung Zhongyuan Ghost Festival

The first festival in Taiwan to be added to the cultural heritage list as a significant folk custom
Keelung Zhongyuan Ghost Festival
Address: No. 181, Xinyi Rd., Zhongzheng Dist., Keelung City
GPS Coordinates: 121.74417,25.13125
Admission: Free Admission
Opening Dates:
the 14th day of the 7th lunar month
Opening Hours:
after 5 p.m.
Organizer: The Keelung City Government
Website: Link
E-mail: 
Telephone: (02)2422-4170#307、367

Significance

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The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival lasts for one month and is the largest Ghost Festival celebration in Taiwan. It is also the first festival in Taiwan to be added to the national cultural heritage list as a significant folk custom. In Chinese tradition, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is known as the Ghost Month. During this time, the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead opens and ghosts return to wander the earth. Families and businesses prepare a grand feast to welcome returning ancestors and in the end, use lanterns to guide them back to the realm of the dead. Since the Qing Dynasty, Keelung’s kinship associations (xìngshì zōngqīnhuì; traditional local mutual aid organizations based on shared surnames) have taken turns organizing the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival, and it has become an important element of community participation for them. The celebration has not only preserved the traditions and customs of their pioneering forebears, but it has also grown through years of refinements into a culturally innovative, artistic, and internationally renowned event. The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival truly has something for everyone. 

History

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The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival originated from the Qing dynasty. During that time, settlers from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou Cities of Fujian province began arriving in Keelung City, Taiwan. The two factions were often involved in armed clashes due to conflicts over business, land, agriculture, and beliefs, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries. The damage finally became so intolerable that the leaders of both parties had to step out and interfere, negotiating a truce between the two groups. It was decided that the bodies of the dead would be buried together and a temple was built in their remembrance. The temple was named Laodagong Temple (literally Temple of the Deceased Ancestors). In addition, the agreement declared that in this new land, shared surnames should take the place of their ancestral homelands as a source of kinship ties. To further encourage communal peace, a surname rotation system was established for organizing the Zhongyuan Festival, which had the effect of encouraging clans to contend with each other through folklore performance teams (zhèntóu) instead of armed militias.
From the Qing Dynasty to the period of Japanese rule over Taiwan, the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival was always organized by four leaders, the festival chief (zhǔhuì), the worship director (zhǔjiào), the altar chief (zhǔtán), and the salvation master (zhǔpǔ). The kinship associations provided representatives for the position of salvation master on a rotational basis, and in 1929, built the massive Main Salvation Altar. The responsibility for organizing the festival eventually passed first to the Keelung Harbor Labor Union and later to Keelung’s Ching-An Temple. In 2007, the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival was officially declared a Keelung City folk custom event. The Tourism Bureau of Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communication later also designated the festival as one of Taiwan’s twelve major festivals. 3

Special Features

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The Keelung Zhongyuan Ghost Festival floor plan shows the special features of the Keelung Zhongyuan Ghost Festival.  There are 6 special features.  Please see below for details.
1Keelung Zhongyuan Festival Eve

Every year on the 29th day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival kicks off with the lantern-lighting ceremony. It ends on first day of the eighth month with the door-closing ceremony and copper pot transfer ceremony. The entire festival consists of 15 events in total over a span of 32 days. 
I. Twenty-ninth day of the sixth lunar month at 11:00 p.m.: Lights-On Night (kaidengye)
A lantern-lighting (qǐdēngjiǎo) ceremony is held at midnight to guide ghosts and spirits to the world of the living to enjoy a feast prepared for them. (Location: Laodagong Temple)
 
II. First day of the seventh month at 2:00 p.m.: Door-Opening Ceremony (kāikānmén)
Conducted by the kinship association representative serving as the salvation master each year, the ceremony is symbolic of the spirits leaving the realm of the dead and entering the world of the living. It also marks the official beginning of Chinese traditional Ghost Month (guǐyuè). (Location: Laodagong Temple)
 
III. Fourth day of the seventh month at 10:00 a.m.: Offerings Ceremony at the French Cemetery in Keelung 
(Location: The Sino-French War Relic)
 
IV. Ninth day of the seventh month: Lantern Delivery and Worship (sòngdēng xiànjìng)
 
V. Eleventh day of the seventh month at 9:00 a.m.: Bamboo Lantern Pole-Raising (shùdēnggāo)
Whole bamboo plants, which have been grown in direct sunlight, are selected and placed in front of the Main Salvation Altar as an invitation to ghosts still lingering in the world to come and prepare to pass across to the afterlife. The whole bamboos symbolize good beginnings and ends in all aspects of life, while the bamboo sections represent steps moving forward and upwards. 
 
VI. Twelfth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: Lantern Lighting Ceremony at the Salvation Altar (kāidēngfàngcǎi)
The lanterns light the way for ghosts to return to the world of the living and enjoy a feast. This feast is held especially for the spirits of the ancestors who lost their lives in the armed conflicts between settlers from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou Cities, and non-locals who passed away in Keelung City due to local diseases or other illnesses. 
 
VII. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 2:00 p.m.: The Lantern Parade (yíngdòudēng)
The kinship associations hold a parade in Keelung City, exhibiting dipper lanterns bearing the clan surnames, before going to worship at Keelung Ching-An Temple.
 
VIII. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 9:00 a.m.: Passage Ceremony Announcement 
Location: Salvation Altar
 
IX. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: Water Lantern Parade 
Location: Keelung City
 
X. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 p.m.: Releasing of the Water Lanterns 
(Location: The seafront at Wanghai Alley)
 
XI. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 a.m.: Birthday Celebration Ceremony for the Earth Emperor 
(Location: Main Salvation Altar)
 
XII. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: The Zhongyuan Passage Ceremony (pǔdù) 
(Location: Salvation Altar)
 
XIII. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 p.m.: Farewell to Wandering Ghosts (sònggū) or The Demon-Queller Dance (tiàozhōngkuí )
(Location: Main Salvation Altar)
 
XIV. First day of the eight month at 5:00 p.m.: Door-Closing Ceremony (guānkānmén)
 The salvation master records the name of the person closing the doors and the date of the ceremony. The metal door is shut first, followed by the wooden door on the outside. This signals a successful end to the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival. 
(Location: Laodagong Temple)
 
XV. First day of the eighth month at 6:30 p.m.: Hand-Held Pot Heater Transfer Ceremony(jiāojiēshǒulú) 
(Location: Ching-An Temple)
*All dates listed above are reckoned according to the lunar calendar. Dates in the Western calendar will vary, so please be sure to check before you go!

2The Main Salvation Altar (zhǔpǔtán)

Constructed in 1976, the Main Salvation Altar is located atop Shitou Hill in Keelung City’s Chung Cheng Park. It is also where the highlight of Keelung Zhongyuan Festival—the Zhongyuan Passage Ceremony (pǔdù)—takes place. The main altar tower is four storeys high, formed from three tiers in the shape of an octagonal pagoda rising from the first-storey base. There are also two hexagonally-shaped wing towers on either side of the central tower. The building’s exterior design is inspired by traditional Chinese architecture, with the eaves of the roof protruding in a beautiful arc. The top of the tower also happens to be the best place for visitors to enjoy a clear view over the Port of Keelung. Approximately a month before the Zhongyuan Festival each year, the kinship association responsible builds traditional Chinese-style wood arches (páilóu) around the Main Salvation Altar, matching it in height to present a “tower-on-tower” design. A set of stairs is placed in front of the altar for the Taoist priest to ascend to the altar. Temporary accommodations for visiting ghosts are also erected. The decorations include five different colors of LED lights outlining the arches. Fiberglass is used to create dragon columns and wood is crafted to display auspicious wishes, such as “Happy Ullambana Festival" (Buddhist name of Zhongyuan Festival), or simply “Happy Zhongyuan Festival.” Colorful imagery such as clan surnames, dragons, and phoenixes are also on display. The altar with all of its lights turned on at night is quite a memorable sight. The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival reached its 150th anniversary in 1997. It was decided that the Main Salvation Altar would be renovated and an 80 píng (a local unit of measurement equaling 264.5 square meters) will be set aside for the construction of the Ghost Festival Museum. The museum is divided into 6 major areas: a cultural artifacts display area, a special exhibition area, a multi-media film screening room, a magic theater, an interactive games area, and a reading area. On display are many pictures and artifacts from Zhongyuan Festivals over the years, as well as an introduction to the series of ritual events held during the festival.

3The Dipper Lantern Parade (yíngdòudēng)

The Dipper Lantern Parade on the thirteenth day of the seventh month is one of the main events of Keelung Zhongyuan Festival. Dipper lanterns (dòudēng) are important artifacts in Taoism, often used in temples and shrines to bring good fortune and avoid back luck. For the kinship associations, their own dipper lanterns are sacred objects kept within Ching-An Temple when not used in festive celebrations. The dipper lantern of each clan is crafted by specially-hired folk art masters. The lanterns are not only beautiful to look at but  also have a great deal of value as folk art pieces.

4Water Lantern Parade

The water lantern parade on the fourteenth day of the seventh month has been around for over 100 years. On the evening of the event, the kinship associations gather by the bank of the Tien-Liao River with local performance groups and school teams invited to participate. They then embark on a parade around the city led by the clans’ water lanterns, with parade groups divided by surname. This is not merely a light-hearted parade, but is rather symbolic of the Salvation God (Da Shi Ye) touring the city and propitiating local residents. The parade also imparts blessings on the four major temples of Keelung—Ching An Temple, Cheng Huang (the City God) Temple, Dianji Temple, and the Temple of Tiandu Yuanshuai (the God of Music). Apart from the religious arrangements, the parade also includes various folklore performance teams (zhèntóu). In recent years, other religious, folk tale-related, or simply charmingly-decorated parade floats have also joined in the celebration. Glittering parade floats and art performance groups from all around the world have become a new spotlight. Accompanied by rhythmic music and the cheers of the gathered crowd, this popular religious carnival lasts deep into the night.
The water lantern parade

5Releasing of the Water Lanterns

After touring the city, family lantern bearers gather at Wanghai Alley to release the water lanterns, symbolic of a temporary burial (fèngcuò) for the ghosts. The ritual involves chanting and the burning of paper money and offerings followed by setting off strings of Chinese firecrackers, and ends with the releasing of the lanterns into the water. The lanterns drift off into the sea as guides to help lost ghosts to accept passage into the afterlife. The releasing of the water lanterns is one of the festival’s main attractions for visitors.
Releasing of the lanterns into the waterReleasing of the lanterns into the water

6The Zhongyuan Passage Ceremony (pǔdù)

The Zhongyuan passage ceremony of the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival takes place every year on the fifteenth day of the seventh month at the Main Salvation Altar in Chung Cheng Park, Keelung. The ceremony is a feast of human food for wandering ghosts to enjoy. One of the main offerings is decorative rice flour dough sculptures (niēmiànrén). These usually include birds, animals, vegetables, bugs, and artifacts made of colorless flour dough, symbolizing offerings to the ghosts. The Main Salvation Altar is splendidly decorated each year by different kinship associations. They often spend a large amount of money  decorating the venue and displaying their surnames to honor their ancestors. In the evening, the altar is lit up to display a beautiful, colossal tower of colorful lights. Visible several kilometers away, the altar instantly becomes one of the most dazzling landmarks of Keelung City and a guiding light for the ancestors to return and enjoy a feast.
Water Lantern Lighting the sea

Reminders

The releasing of the water lanterns takes place during the night and the wind is often strong close to the sea. Visitors are advised to bring warm clothing. The Ghost Festival Museum is located on the first floor of the Salvation Altar in Chung Cheng Park. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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