Kinmen’s Wudao City God Welcoming Festival is the first government-recognized significant folk activity on the outlying islands. Local residents take part in all of the events that make up the festival, including donations of “godchild money” (donations of money to a deity to procure its protection as a heavenly parent), the preparation of ritual offerings, the announcement of the festival budget, invitations to participating deities from other temples, and the procession itself. These events are all centered around the lives and activities of local residents, making the festival a showcase of Kinmen’s local cultural milieu. The festival procession includes palanquins bearing statues of deities, parade floats, a centipede troupe, a chest-slapping dance troupe, and the Troupe of the Divine Generals, along with other folk performance troupes. These groups are all formed by local residents who voluntarily learn the skills needed to take part in the procession. Other residents march in the procession with lit incense or line the procession route with incense burners on tables to welcome worshippers in a show of community spirit. The enthusiastic participation of the local citizenry is a sign of how deeply rooted Minnan (southern Chinese) culture is in Kinmen.
Kinmen County’s Wudao City God Temple is a major local religious center. The original temple was built in the final years of the Ming dynasty. It was renovated many times during the Qing dynasty and again after World War II before being torn down in 1993 as part of a major temple expansion. The temple is famous for its Wudao City God Welcoming Festival. In 1680, the Qing court established its Kinmen Military Headquarters at the City God Temple of Kinmen Town. Later, the headquarters was moved from Kinmen Town to Houpu (today’s Jincheng Township), A statue of City God was also transported to Houpu on the 12th day of the fourth lunar month and Wudao City God Temple established. This date is now celebrated as the Wudao City God’s birthday. The Wudao City God Welcoming Festival, which has been celebrated for over 330 years, also takes place on this date. Worshippers begin arriving at the temple to make offerings as early as the end of the third lunar month. The festival was cancelled between 1949 and 1952 due to cross-strait tensions. In recent years, it has been held in conjunction with other cultural events to boost tourism, and the festival has gradually increased in scope. City gods from other areas now take part in the procession, and in 2011, the festival’s Centipede Array set a Guinness World Record. In 2013, the government designated the Wudao City God Welcoming Festival a significant folk activity.
1The Large and Small Processions
In the past, the Wudao City God Welcoming Procession was a small-scale annual event whose route was limited to the Houpu area. A large-scale procession was also held every three to five years, with its route encompassing most of Jincheng Township and parts of Jinning Township. After 1951, only the small-scale processions were held. Then in 2016, local residents proposed expanding the scale of the procession. At present, the procession travels along a set route around Houpu’s four city gates in a counterclockwise direction. The city’s northwest and southeast district heads take turns organizing the event.
2The Festival’s Course of Events
The Wudao City God Welcoming Festival lasts for seventeen days, beginning with donations of “godchild money,” and ending with the procession. The course of events is as follows:
1. Donating “godchild money”: Traditionally, parents of small children go to city god temples to ask the deity to take on the role of heavenly parent to their children. It is believed that the city god bestows blessings on children and grants them divine protection, allowing them to grow up safely. Parents who are followers of the Wudao City God visit the temple starting on the 26th day of the third lunar month to hand over a year’s worth of “godchild money.” This money is used to fund temple fairs or offerings.
2. Hanging the budget board: Temple officials hang the budget board on the first day of the fourth lunar month. The board lists budget items and expenses that are expected to be incurred in inviting the Divine Civil and Military Judges, Heavenly Generals Fan and Hsieh, Divine Masters Dongpai and Lipai, and the divine horsemen and footmen for the procession. Individuals sign their name on the board to indicate that they are willing to cover the cost of the corresponding item.
3. Inviting the deities: On the first day of the fourth lunar month, that year’s organizer sends fotia, which are invitations between deities, to every temple in Houpu and to the Stable Master’s Shrine to invite the deities enshrined in these temples to take part in the festival.
4. Preparing the offerings: On the first day of the fourth lunar month, residents of the district governed by that year’s organizer prepare sticky red tortoise cakes, City God statues, joss paper, and other items to be used as offerings.
5. Welcoming the deities: On the ninth day of the fourth lunar month, the organizer leads a gong and drum troupe to visit every temple to ask their deities to honor the festival with their esteemed presence.
The procession: The procession takes place on the 12th day of the fourth lunar month.
3The Propped Lanterns
Among the troupes representing the West Gate district is the Propped Lantern Troupe, whose members carry large lanterns mounted on poles. The lanterns bear the phrase “Wudao City God, appointed provincial city god by imperial order” on the front. On the back are paintings of dragon totems and the words “peace within the district.” The lanterns have brightly colored auspicious ornamental borders, a special characteristic of Kinmen’s City God festival and a symbol of the deity’s esteem in the eyes of the people.
4The Chest-Slapping Dance Performance
The Chest-Slapping Dance performance is one of the highlights of the procession. The troupe is made up of seven to twelve children. They act out the famous Kun opera play “The Embroidered Coat,” playing all the main roles, even old women and beggars. They are accompanied by nanguan music, a style of Chinese classical music from Fujian. The play tells the story of Zheng Yuan-he, a man who went to Beijing to take the imperial exam. After failing the exam, Zheng decided to drown his sorrows in a brothel. He ended up losing all his money and became a beggar. The performers are bare-chested and have colorful designs painted on their faces and bodies. They frequently slap their chests and legs to amuse onlookers and banter with the crowd as they march along with the procession. They are one of the most unique troupes found in Taiwan temple parades.
5The Centipede Troupe
The Centipede Troupe is a time-honored tradition of the West Gate district. Due to cross-strait tensions, the Centipede Troupe only participated intermittently in the festival between 1949 and 1981. Since then, it has participated every year. The centipede is made up of sixteen two-meter-long segments. Each segment contains two seats, for a total of thirty-two seats. The seats are filled by children who dressed up as characters from folk legends or famous tales depicting the virtues of loyalty and filial piety. In the past, the seats were placed on wheels to save on manpower. Afterwards, it was decided the centipede should be carried on the shoulders in accordance with tradition. The Centipede Troupe is one of the most popular troupes in the procession.
Wudao City God Temple is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Wudao City God Welcoming Procession begins on the 12th day of the fourth lunar month. The Kinmen County Government has also organized numerous other activities to coincide with the festival, such as performance troupe exhibitions and lion dance competitions.