Welcome Royal Lord Festival - Donggang 2015

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Welcome Royal Lord Festival Donggang, Taiwan

“Taiwan folk beliefs have their roots in polytheism and various seasonal customs and festivals, through which our people are able to add enjoyment to their daily lives, maintain cultural identity with friends and relatives, and remove doubts or ease difficulties. Folk beliefs in Taiwan are a positive reflection of the people’s wish for harmonious interaction, coexistence, and co-prosperity among heaven, earth, and mankind.” Dr. Sun Wei-xing, Director of the National Museum of Natural Science speaking at the Wangye welcome ceremony for the ‘The Hunt of the Celestial Court’ exhibition - 2012.

Text Copyright: Individual Authors - Image Copyright: Kevin Ryan and Yang, Yi Translations: Liao, Yun Ching and Vicky Hsu Published October 2018 by Charnwood Arts - People Making Places ISBN: 978-1-903947-38-8 No part of this publication can be reproduced without the written agreement of the authors


Welcome Royal Lord Festival Donggang, Taiwan


Dedicated to the memory of Desmond Ryan, a gentle man compassionately committed to his beliefs

Introduction 2

A Magnificent Tradition That Touches Gods and People


A Broader Perspective


The Thirteen Stages of Welcome Royal Lord


Interview with the Chief Prime Minister Welcome Royal Lord - 2015






Travel and Taboos



Introduction - Kevin Ryan I first became aware of what I came to know as the Welcome Royal Lord Festival and the burning of the King Boat through the medium of photography. At first, attracted by the spectacle and some remarkable images, I quickly became interested to know more about the meaning and process of the festival. As time went on the possibility of actually attending it became a reality. As a previous visitor to Taiwan I had taken part in a number of other Southern Taiwanese temple processions and folk festival events and beyond my initial ignorance more and more understanding dawned with each one. However, gaining knowledge is one thing, to be profoundly moved by events is another. The experience of meeting the community of Donggang and attending the festival in 2015 has formed many friendships and emotional bonds with that place. Even as I write, I am mindful of the warm invitation from a member of the main temple to “return home� for the 2018 events. Apart from what I experienced as an individual and what I captured as a photographer I am also, as a long in the tooth developer of community arts projects, interested in how this community maintains such a remarkable tradition. This book is a beginning of that exploration rather than a culmination and I hope along with my collaborators, contributors and other community members that this book at least achieves the objective of making Welcome Royal Lord more widely known to people beyond Southern Taiwan. Although I have a lot of thoughts and questions the main voices of this book are more authentically grounded in the knowledge and experiences of Taiwanese people. The township of Donggang (Tungkang) in Pingtung County on the Western coast of Taiwan was first established as a port by the Chinese admiral Koxinga in the 17th century. The town grew to become a major commercial port and it maintained this status until the turn of the 20th Century. Many Chinese migrants to Taiwan, particularly the early Haka Chinese gained entry to the province through this route. The port is still one of Taiwan’s largest fishing harbours and is known widely for its Bluefin Tuna and Sakura Shrimp harvests. The current population of the township is estimated at just under 50,000, a little less but not dissimilar from the town where Charnwood Arts is based in Loughborough in the UK. This factor also shapes my comparative interest in the town and my amazement that it can swell to four times the population over the festival period.


The King Boat is prepared for its final journey


The town is also known by many for its ‘East Haven Palace of Eastern Prosperity’, (Donglong Temple) the chief God (Wangye) of which is Royal Lord Wen. The customary belief is that the Wangye, are divine emissaries who tour the world of the living on behalf of the celestial realm and are active in expelling disease and bad things from those who worship them. A visit by the Wangye to a place of inspection is known as a ‘hunting tour on behalf of heaven’ the object of the hunt being disease and bad luck. In Donggang these ‘hunting tour’ inspections on behalf of the Jade Emperor take place on a regular cycle every three years in the years of the Bull, Dragon, Goat and Dog. In Chinese the word Wen (which means ‘warm’ and is a family name) can also be pronounced to mean ‘plague’ and in earlier times, in a region affected by epidemics, these ‘emissaries’ were called upon to protect local populations and free them from this source of harm. The first Donglong Temple was built in 1706 when a statue of Lord Wen was brought from the mainland but this temple was destroyed by a tsunami in 1894. The Temple was relocated, rebuilt and grew into the present Donglong Temple. It is a very important focal point of faith in a town that is rich with many other elaborate temples. The relationship with the power and influence of the sea is ever present and essential in many of Taiwan’s folk-religious traditions – from the widespread worship of the Sea Goddess - Mazu, with over a thousand temples throughout the land and other islands, to the remarkable traditional beliefs that underpin the Welcome Royal Lord (Wangye) Festival. The story begins with the birth of a child in the year 609 who was to become the Marshal Wen Hong. According to the legend, Wen, Hong was instrumental in saving the Emperor Tang Taitsung during one of his disguised tours. He was rewarded by the Emperor through being made a ‘Presented Scholar’ along with 35 colleagues. This bold group of 36 scholars became known for the success of their punitive expeditions against bandits and Wen Hong was again canonized as Marshal. During one of their regular sea expeditions or missions of inspection, their boat was wrecked and all 36 scholars lost their lives. The Emperor was grief ridden but believed that they had gone to the Celestial Realms to become deities. So it has come down that he canonized them as ‘Gods to Guard the World’ and commissioned a special vessel the ‘King Wen Boat’ with the spirit tablets of Lord Wen and the other Lords placed inside the vessel for the people to worship. A royal script was also placed inside the vessel as an announcement to the people for welcoming the arrival of the boat with a sincere and faithful heart.


The Golden Gate of Donglong Temple


However, there are other studies and interpretations that link the origins of today’s worship to the conversion of the Lords from dangerous spirits to more benign benefactors. The factor of premature death leading to the creation of vengeful and demonic entities appears to be linked to the spreading rather than the curing of epidemics. So it is the sincerity and worship of the people that becomes the critical element in transforming them from demons into deities with the power to prevent epidemics, dispel evil and bring peace to the community. Whichever route we choose, the route of royal decree or the more complex story of the growth of and then conversion of worship of Lord Wen, it came to pass that the people of Donggang came to believe that if they pray to the Gods with a sincere heart then Lord Wen will continue to bless Donggang with peace. The sociological unraveling of what the elaborate rituals and complex processes of the festival mean for social cohesion and harmony in Donggang is a fascinating thing to think about. I hope that your thoughts on this will be enriched as this book unfolds as I think there are many things for the world to learn from what happens here. After a lengthy tradition in mainland China the Wangye Festival in Donggang first began in 1684 when the Qing dynasty set up government offices in nearby Tamsui. Although the area grew and settlements increased, agricultural development was difficult and local residents were plagued by illnesses caused by what they considered to be ‘bad air’ (miasma). In an attempt to fight the illness brought about by the effects of ‘bad air’, the local people began to worship Lord Wen and celebrate the return of a selection of the Royal Lords on their missions of inspection to help cleanse the town. The current festival unfolds over eight days and seven nights but the three year cycle begins only three days after the end of the previous cycle. Anyone can visit the festival but there are various rules and taboos that people are asked to honour - this is a very important time for the town and deeply entwined with peoples lives.


The Elaborate Roof Decorations of Donglong Temple


The people of the town will welcome you warmly and although there are other King Boat, Wangye festivals you will experience something unique in the scale and elaborate nature of Donggang’s. Many traditions are preserved within the festival including the making of the King Boat, the Inspection Processions and the folk art performances (zhèntóu), all of which are of religious and artistic significance. The excellence of artistic and cultural achievement can be seen in music, dance, costume, temple environments, rituals, the enactment of stories by live actors and puppets, through cuisine and in the beautiful artistry of the King Boat itself. My first encounter with the building housing the 2015 boat was simply breathtaking. Beautifully constructed and painted it was an extraordinary work of art. In earlier times the boats were made of wood and originally, at the end of the festive rituals, the visiting Wangye would be returned to the abode of the Jade Emperor by being cast out to sea. Later, and increasing substantially in scale, the boats were constructed out of bamboo and paper. Of course these couldn’t put to sea so they were burnt on the beach instead. As the prosperity of Donggang increased the highly painted and decorated wooden King Boats of today were developed to send the Wangye back to the Celestial Realms. As you will see from the account of my friend and colleague Liao, Yun Ching, who kindly acted as my guide and interpreter and is the co-author of this book, the call of the King Boat itself led to our first significant meeting with the people of Donggang. This happened shortly after leaving the site housing the boat itself and just a couple of hours after arriving in the town. That sense of the presence of some sort of guiding hand accompanied our endeavours throughout the period of the festival and led us to the remarkable personal experiences and insights into the process from Mr Hsaio, the Chief Prime Minister of the 2015 Welcome Royal Lord Festival. This book is enriched by his generosity.


Kuo, Long-Mu and his sister Chen, Mei-Lian share their family’s past activities with the festival


A Magnificent Tradition That Touches Gods and People

Liao, Yun-Ching - Donggang 2015

My name is Liao, Yun-Ching and I live in the north of Taiwan in the capital city Taipei. This project was the fifth time that I worked with Charnwood Arts. The first time was through a three month internship in the UK from MOCA Taipei in 2012, then on the Inconvenient Truth project with Paul Gent, Kevin Ryan and Maggie Lin through Professor Ming Turner on Cijin Island off Kaohsiung. The third time was to accompany Charnwood Arts as an interpreter on their residency in Chongqing, South West China. The fourth time was to produce an on-line magazine, ‘Artslink Taiwan’ with Chen, Hui-Tzu, an intern from De Montfort University. My fifth was to help document the festival and produce this book. Since then I have also arranged a local guide and helped to document the annual Yanshui Beehive Firework Festival north of Tainan and was invited to co-document ICAF 2017. Since working with Charnwood Arts I have become interested in many things including wanting to know more about festivals and pilgrimages in my own country. I had perceived such differences of character between my experiences in Western countries and that of my home country. This was the first time for me to participate in Donggang Welcome Royal Lord (protection of the community) Festival. First impressions are often lasting ones and for me it began with delight and admiration for the Donggang peoples’ enthusiastic, warm and sincere attitude towards the ceremonies for the God. The whole process of participating in the festival and the life of the town, the photography and the interviews Kevin Ryan and I conducted ran very smoothly. We experienced many special coincidences, so much so that in the end it left us feeling that the ‘King’ (the Royal Lord), the Da Qian Sui, was blessing us and both gave us and aided us in an important mission. As you will see from our interview with the Chief Prime Minister, we were not alone in this and we were given his blessing and encouragement to introduce the festival to more people in the world.


We arrived in Donggang the day before the Welcome Royal Lord Festival, partly to settle into our accommodations before the event and because Kevin likes to experience a location, he says to “take photographs first just to warm up, ‘taste the light’ and get a feel for people and the place”. We travelled by local bus from Kaohsiung, it took more than one hour but it is a very cheap bus ride. We each booked rooms in a central location not far from Donglong Temple, this is advisable as the temple is the main location of many events and a starting and end point to many things. In that first evening we met and went out to experience the town and work out where things were. Even before the beginning of the festival days many people had come to Donglong Temple and to the market in the streets around. This temple becomes the ‘Substitute Heavenly Mansion’ during the period, a place where the Gods may stay. In the temple compound we saw the huge ‘King Boat’ for the first time. People are welcome to enter the building in which it stays and walk around it but it must not be touched. It is painted in a gorgeous, traditional pattern and depicts legends - an amazing sight and work of art. At the base of this huge boat there are also many detailed and life-like small wooden models. Near the temple, we met Mei (Chen, Mei-Lian) who was born in Donggang, but now lives in USA and comes back, like so many other locals from around the world, to participate in the festival. At first we just talked a little and then said goodbye but Kevin suddenly thought that we should find her again and talk with her more. We quickly found her in her brother’s hair dressing shop a couple of hundred yards from where we had first met her. So it was, right from the beginning that the Gods welcomed us, for her brother Kuo, Long-Mu is a remarkable man, a former traditional commercial ship builder who had also been involved in building a King Boat 13 times (over 39 years).


Beyond this, his whole family engages in the festival quite deeply. We were so lucky to interview such senior local people at the right time before the ceremony. It was so valuable for us gain more correct information and knowledge about the festival, all of which helped us to properly participate in it over the festival period. The first full day is known as ‘Welcome Water’- people go to the beach to welcome the Royal Lord who comes on behalf of the Jade Emperor to inspect the town. The seven sedans that service the Royal Lord, each carried by one of the seven tribes, are used to welcome the tablets of the Royal Lord at Donglong Temple in the morning. They then head to the beach. The Jhen-Hai Temple, which is nearest the beach, was crowded that morning. We saw the 108 characters of the Chinese legend, The Water Margin, as they displayed different martial arts in the plaza of the temple. The characters all had fantastic traditional facial painting and did many things that were wonderful to watch. By noon nearly 200 sedans had gathered on the beach, the big parade was very spectacular! Before welcoming the Royal Lord, the exorcists held a ritual for the tablets. Many spirit mediums or ‘mediators’ invited the Gods to come to them at the beach. I was so shocked. They reacted to the Royal Lord in many different ways. Some processes were scary involving flagellation and piercing with skewers through the face - many people were completely possessed in some way. After a few hours, the sedans carriers responsible for the Da Qian Sui (The Chief Royal Lord) repeatedly went to the stage to write the family name of Da Qian Sui. Before it was revealed, people were nervously and anxiously waiting, the atmosphere was just like waiting to announce the lottery prize or an award winner but with many thousands of people in attendance.


A Temple God is carried down to the beach to welcome the arrival of the Royal Lords


If the people who came forward said the wrong name, they had to return and hand over to others to repeat the ritual again. It was nearly half past four in the afternoon when they finally announced the right name. It was marked by firecrackers, a release of colourful balloons and a loud burst of cheers to welcome the fact that the Royal Lord had arrived! This festival’s Royal Lord’s family name was ‘Fong’. This was the fourth time he had been dispatched to the Welcome King festival by the Jade Emperor since the Donggang festival had begun. In all there are 36 Royal Lord’s names representing 36 Royal scholars who were drowned including Wen, Hong, the main God worshipped at Donglong Temple. As they were in the service of broadcasting the achievements of the Tang Court when they were lost at sea the Emperor granted them the honor of “patrolling on behalf of the Celestial Court,” and decreed that temples be built to worship them. So it is, that every three years, originally to dispel evil and the plague and now in the spirit of bringing peace, harmony and well being, that a return to Donggang takes place. As night fell the atmosphere in the town was one of great pleasure because of the Royal Lord’s coming. We were invited by Kuo, Long-Mu to enjoy a sumptuous feast at his place and many tables were laid out in the streets around. Kuo, Long-Mu was very generous and shared many old photographs and gifted Kevin a book of photographs showing the whole process of the building of the King Boat and one of the blue hats that are the sole preserve of the remarkable boat builders. Kevin felt very honoured to be gifted these things. The ritual of crossing the fire was held in the plaza of Donglong Temple that night. Kuo, Long-Mu’s sister Mei acted as our guide and we were able to make our way through the crowd and beyond the barrier to witness it close up.


Sedan Carriers cross the fire in the plaza of Donglong Temple


The hot coals were burnt and then sprinkled with salt and rice. The carriers of seven sedans and their followers walked barefoot through the smouldering area of the plaza, I was really nervous for them! The Gods display their power of divinity through crossing fire, the ritual also drives out evil spirits and removes misfortune for those who are religious. Here, during this ritual, as with so many circumstances throughout the eight days, the spirit, respect and reverence of the people shone through and we could not help but be affected by it very deeply. The next day I met Kevin for breakfast and we made an effort to locate and follow the procession through the streets of Donggang. In particular we wanted to find the sedan of Da Qian Sui and observe what happened. We walked far but didn’t find it. During the rest period of the procession, around lunch time, we caught up with some elements of the procession and then we met Vicky. She was born in Donggang, but now lives and works in the USA. Like Mei and so many others she returns for this special event. She introduced us to lots of information about the rituals and ceremonies and also shared more information about the 7 sedan carrier teams. Her English was very fluent. It soon became apparent that her team was in the yellow costumes and therefore responsible for the Da Qian Sui’s sedan. There was a further surprise. She asked if we would like to meet her father… I was wondering why when she announced that her father was the Censer Master for the team/tribe of Da Qian Sui. Wow! What a coincidence! Once again we felt to be in the right place at the right time. During the next few days the Royal Lord inspected the town - from early in the morning to the early hours of the next day the procession walked around the districts of Donggang.


The festival record of the Din-Chung Street Tribe

The Censer Master of the team responsible for the Da Qian Sui’s (Chief Royal Lord’s) sedan


We began to know and follow the most important 7 sedan carrier groups but also spent time watching other rituals. There was much noise, music and fireworks, especially where the Da Qian Sui’s sedan went, the firecrackers and fireworks were set off most enthusiastically. Many other sedans and groups of characters joined the procession from other temples. The most attractive for me were the 13 Taibao, the cute little boys who we met being made up, napping, eating, so funny… but when they were in character they were so proud, stern and brave! In the evening, everywhere in the streets there were fireworks and firecrackers, it seemed they never stopped - as if they were always freely available... The whole town was very busy and bustling, the population swelled by so many visitors. Really crazy! Whilst we were working many sedan carriers gave us water to drink in the processions and also invited us to eat together with them. In the heat Kevin realised after a couple of days that he needed to drink twice as much water than he had been to avoid dehydration! I also introduced him to a special herbal tea called Qing Cao Cha, a Chinese herbal tea. He found this helped a great deal. We were always so touched by Donggang people’s hospitality and warmth. On the day of the procession in the Nong area, because the distance is quite far, we rented a scooter to follow the procession. Later in the street and very tired, we borrowed the toilet from the hair salon of Evan Chiang, she and her family and friends were so nice, they invited us to rest and kept giving us cookies, fruit and coffee. The decorations of the space were very gorgeous and lovely! We felt like in the heaven after so much effort. We had a good talk with them all just like we were old friends. On the evening of the 6th day, on the way to the Donglong Temple, we just caught sight of a big luxurious stage at the end of a lane.


The Thirteen Tai-Bao at rest in the midday sun


Kevin is always curious and follows his instincts so we were attracted to walk towards it and investigate. As we walked down the street we quickly realised that people were preparing for a massive banquet there. Suddenly, off to the left… down a small opening, we saw the sedan of Da Qian Sui - it was a delightful surprise and yet another connection to be made which proved very valuable to the mission. Actually, we had materialised in the middle of the team responsible for the Da Qian Sui (Din-Chung Street). They introduced their history simply and invited us to eat dinner, an old man kept feeding Kevin new dishes until he was full enough to explode! Whilst we were there another remarkable thing happened… we were asked if we would like an appointment with the Chief Prime Minister. It gave us both a deep feeling of affinity with Da Qian Sui. After the banquet, we visited the sumptuous ritual and feast for the worship of the Gods in front of Donglong Temple, this is known as the ‘Worship Ritual of the King Boat’. Such a rich and complex culture, such amazing rituals that brought new surprises every day! On the 7th day, the beautiful King Boat left Donglong Temple and travelled the streets in day time. Such a huge ship going around a small town is really very special to witness. All the different sedan carriers carried out their duties, some people carried masts, small boats or the anchor, the King Boat was mainly dragged by the yellow suit team responsible for Da Qian Sui. Also, the staff of Donglong Temple and others assisted, some held the electric wires up in the front of the procession, to remove obstacles to its progress. Some protected the ship from behind. The King Boat moved slowly past modern buildings and busy streets. A vessel going on the road in this way was really spectacular.


The King Boat is processed through the streets of Donggang


I witnessed it and felt a sense of the surreal. Wherever the boat arrived, people welcomed and gazed at it with joyful wonder. When the boat returned to Donglong Temple the process of loading it with many goods for the journey of the Gods back to heaven began. We stayed to watch this and once again met with Vicky’s father. Then we were invited by the organisation By Wood to join their artist dinner in the fish market area of town. This is also held once every three years. We met various people who Kevin knew, and one of them was in the white suit of the ‘military’ team, a local Donggang person, his friends also participated in the same team. They shared values and their experiences of the festival with us. Many men participate in the ceremony on a hereditary basis. No matter what kind of job they do, people come back to Donggang from other places over the period. To participate in the ceremony is almost more important than weddings or funerals. They open up to invite their friends to join it occasionally. They carried the sedan together all day, generating a deep sense of identity, but also with the effect of uniting different communities of Donggang villages (boroughs) through the ceremonies. The King Boat finally arrived at the beach around 2 o’clock in the morning. The sedan teams prepared and carried out the rituals of departure for the Gods, creating a pyre of sacks of paper money that grew higher and higher around the ship. The teams made their way from the beach and many other locals left too. The sedan carriers packed up their flags, stopped their playing and retreated quickly and quietly... the Gods were now ready to leave and return to the Celestial Heavens. The pyre was lit around 5 am. Looking at the raging fire one can feel that the power of nature is so strong.


The blue capped boat builders engage in the final details of preparing the ship for its journey


This was a powerful symbolic way of removing bad things, taking them away, the thick smoke billowed upward, demonstrating a link between land and sky. The Royal Lord has gone, completed his task and gone back to the Heaven. The burning, collapsing, exhausted King Boat, dynamic and full of poetic images made me think of a person’s life. It may be a prosperous life but however huge and strong the body may be it will go eventually to ashes. After all, it has to go back to the nature. This final act, participating in the whole procession of the King Boat, the loading of the boat and the burning ceremony, meant for a long working day on top of other long days! We met and went out to work from just after 9 am on the Saturday (the seventh day) and didn’t leave the beach until around the same time on the next day (the eighth day). Walking and working for the best part of 24 hours was really tiring!! It certainly broke my record of working hours. Kevin spent it carrying around 12 kg of equipment in the heat! We came together to work again around 5:30 that evening. This was our opportunity to interview The Chief Prime Minister, the highest leader of the Welcome Royal Lord Festival. We were so honoured and felt incredible that we can interview him at his home after the burning of the ship. Vicky also arranged to come to help give a professional translation. Our interview was fantastic and it went very well for nearly 4 hours. It felt like such a rich harvest and we were very thankful to be given such time when this impressive man had hardly slept for the last eight days! We found that we had the same idea, that it is the spirit and character of the festival that we should let more people know about and understand more deeply. It is very spectacular and you can understand why people are attracted to it but also very solemn and people should understand this too. We hope that visitors don’t just come here to see the surface, as a carnival to participate in, but to know the deep-rooted, hereditary special culture and some of the inner religious/spiritual quality through the opportunity.


The King Boat’s pyre is lit as the dawn approaches


There are so many details of the ceremonies that you need to live on the site to understand and experience it. Even when you are on site, it is still difficult to understand it fully, yet it’s very moving, and will surprise your heart. This is a mysterious and charming connection between the Gods and the people. Sometimes we trust in Gods, and Gods also let people know how to do things through a variety of ways. It’s a very wonderful interaction. Before leaving Donggang in the noon of the following day, the Chief Prime Minister, Mr Hsiao, who runs a wonderful seafood restaurant, treated us to a gourmet seafood feast. It was really wonderful surprise and a very generous gift. Since so many special things happened in succession, both Kevin and I felt that besides our prior reading, thinking, conversations and efforts to understand the ceremony, there was a much greater force in the universe pushing us to engage with these things. There was a sense that the God wants us to do it, and let us feel the events so strongly, so we that have to do something in response. This book is simple in that it comes from that place. If we are to invite more people to know and participate in this festival, we feel strongly that they also need to understand the content of this cultural treasure, and to respect, preserve, maintain it for the good of Donggang and its people. Even as we live modern lives, there are not only many traditional meanings in the ceremony, but also very important things that we should know and learn from. The Welcome Royal Lord Festival brings spiritual sustenance for the people of Donggang. Blessing them with a prosperous economy. People cherish each other and the place more. The cooperation of Gods and human beings, where all things are completed naturally, allows surrender to all the ‘cosmic arrangements’. It is important for outsiders like me to learn from the sincere enthusiasm behind this process and from the personal strength and stability that makes things go so smoothly. I experienced such a profound and rich activity, something that moved my heart, and that has now been internalised as a force in my life. I can only give massive thanks to many people and good friends who helped and who made this meaningful journey and the completion of this book possible. It’s been a great fortune to meet you.


Mr Hsiao in his uniform as Chief Prime Minister of the Welcome Royal Lord ceremonies


A Broader Perspective

Kevin Ryan

Throughout this book I have refered to the festival as The Welcome Royal Lord Festival - but its official title is Ying Wang Ping’an Jidian - The Sacrifice of Peace and Tranquillity for Welcoming the Lords. Ritual festivals, community organized and engaging activities, are deeply engrained in cultures around the world. They may be solemn or celebratory or combine aspects of both but all have some transformative impact for the individuals involved as well as for the broader collective. When entering into a sacred space or a process already invested with both personal and shared meaning people pass through a certain threshold. They make a decision to step beyond their individual sense of self and participate as a part of a greater whole. This communion in common cause with others has been facilitated by rituals since ancient times and is ever present in modern life through folk traditions, religious ceremonies and many modern innovations. The communal identity of Donggang has been strengthened, renewed and sustained through the years by the Festival, enabling people to work more closely together and support each other in a place once racked by death and disease. A place where fishermen risked their lives at sea, a place where ancient belief in and and experience of the supernatural helped explain the reasons for the dangers faced and offered solutions and solace that could then be grounded in the solidarity and mutual support of a coherent community. Some of the dangers and of course, the explanations for them may have changed, but the festival still carries significant power for social harmony and the maintenance of identity and supportive kinship.


Busy scenes at the Jhen-Hai Temple


The Thirteen Stages of Welcome Royal Lord

Yi, Yang

In a journey that was so full of meetings with wonderful people another chance encounter was with the work of a Donggang native, artist Yang, Yi, during the 2015 festival. Although now based in Taipei it was good fortune that Yi was in Donggang during a follow up visit to meet Mr Hsiao and photograph the fish harbour in operation in 2017. Yi very kindly agreed to the use of her excellent illustrations of the 13 stages (procedures) of the Welcome Royal Lord Festival to be a part of this book. The accompanying texts are referenced from the ‘Donggang Welcome Royal Lord Notebook’ by Mu Ri Shui Hsiang Humanities Space.


The Seven Tribes Draw the Lottery Three days after the release of the King Boat as the culmination of the Welcome Royal Lord Festival in Donggang, the representatives of the seven tribes meet to draw lotteries for the posts of each tribe in the next festival. This is held at the Ping An Banquet (Peaceful Banquet). This image depicts the lottery process before a statue of the resident Wangye of Donglong Temple, the Lord Wen.

The Seven Tribes Draw the Lottery



The Military Team is Established

Building the King Boat

The Military Team Is Established

Building the King Boat

The military is like a security or police force of the Chief Prime Minister for the process of Welcome Royal Lord. They help organise and manage all the affairs during the inspection of the town by the Royal Lords and other tasks such as supervising the boat building, the purchase of goods, and helping solve the problems encountered by pilgrims - they are called on to do many duties.

The Welcome Royal Lord Festival in Donggang began to build wooden boats again in 1973. It was made by bamboo, paste and paper before. The construction of the Royal Lord’s boat takes about four to five months. Around a hundred local shipbuilding carpenters devote their time to volunteer and build it together. The boat is expertly and exquisitely painted and complemented by many smaller wooden items. The Wangye vessel is the most important part of the Festival. The boat ferries away disease, bad luck and evil spirits to keep the area safe. The King Boat is generally over ten metres long, though the exact size differs every year according to divination carried out by the temple.



Ritual Invitation Ceremony

Establishing The Substitute Heavenly Mansion

Ritual Invitation Ceremony

Establishing the Substitute Heavenly Mansion

The meaning of this is the sending of an invitation to the Royal Lords who will come to inspect the town from the heavenly realms. Its purpose is to welcome them to come to a beach in the south-west of Donggang on the appointed date.

For the Royal Lords to act for the Jade Emperor to inspect the town is likened to royal ministers inspecting a locality in ages past. As these are heavenly visitors a mansion or suitable dwelling should therefore be prepared for them to reside in. To do this the Donglong Temple is substituted as the heavenly mansion around three days before the festival. After the completion of the setting up ceremony, the ‘Substitute Heavenly Mansion’ prohibits access to people beyond those involved directly, until the Welcome Royal Lord festival finishes.

The ceremony is held about a month before the Welcome Royal Lord Festival itself. It is set at an altar in front of the Donglong Temple and the Royal Lord Wen attends the ritual. The Chief Prime Minister with the Deputy Prime Ministers, counsellors and the incense burners of the seven tribes, prepare the sacrifices, fruits and paper money on behalf of all the people. All are invited to welcome the Royal Lord by submitting the report.

The first five procedures are preparatory activities for the festival, while the next eight procedures are the formal start of the Donggang Welcome Royal Lord Festival.



Welcome Water

Crossing The Fire Ceremeony

Welcome Water

Crossing the Fire

On the day after the seven tribes have gathered in front of the ‘Substitute Heavenly Mansion’, the tablets of Royal Lords are placed on sedans and paraded to a stage on the beach of Jhen-Hai Park. An Exorcist will open the eyes of the tablets of Royal Lords and then hold a ritual to welcome the Da Qian Shui. At this time, about 200 sedans gather on the beach to await the Royal Lord. There will be huge crowds of people.

Before the Royal Lords return to the Substituted Heavenly Mansion, they have to be brought in through a crossing the fire ritual. Fire is of great importance in the activities of temple rituals in Taiwan. The Gods pass through the fire to show their majesty and their faithful followers pass the through the fire to burn away evil. The Exorcist sets up an altar for the ritual, and then the fire road is established by the Royal Lord Wen, the town God who hosts the Imperial visit. The procession walks through the heated coals in the order of the Da Qian Sui (Chief Royal Lord), Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth Royal Lords, and the Military. They cross the fire three times. Then the Royal Lords enter the inner temple to be established there.

There is then a wait for the process of assessing the arrival of the Da Qian Shui (The Chief Royal Lord/Big Thousand Year Royal Lord). The sedan carriers who are responsible for the Da Qian Shui ritually divine his arrival, writing it out with a sedan carrying stick on a tablet on stage. If the surname conforms to the name given to the chief officials in a ritual before the ceremony then it is recognised that the Da Qian Shui has arrived. His surname is immediately written on the general flags and lanterns, and sent to the flagpole in front of the ‘Substituted Heaven Mansion’. The procession of sedans then tours through a section of the town.



Morning And Evening Ritual Worship

Procession Of The Town

Morning And Evening Ritual Worship

Procession Of The Town and Prayer

Between Welcome Water and the departure of the Royal Lord, a ‘sacrificing to the Royal Lord’ ritual takes place every morning and evening, and food is prepared for the Royal Lord. There are four places to perform these sacrificial rituals to the Royal Lords - The internal hall of the Substituted Heavenly Mansion, the Military Mansion, the altar of Royal Lord Wen and the King Boat ‘factory’.

The purpose of the processions through the locality is to utilise the majesty of Da Qian Sui and the Jade Emperor’s Imperial status to inspect the town, suppress evils and epidemic diseases. The process will thus allow faithful followers to be able to live in peace. This is the most important objective of ‘Welcome Royal Lord’ in Donggang.

Different ministers carry out ‘Worship Royal Lords’ rituals. Preparing tributes for the worship is varied and can include delicacy foods, red turtle sticky rice cakes, red sticky rice balls, pastries, tea, tobacco and so on. Some groups may also prepare a whole pig, goat or sheep. During this worship of the Royal Lords only relevant people can enter the Substituted Heavenly Mansion.

Taking place from the second to the fifth day, Royal Lord Wen, the five Royal Lords and the Military undertake a pilgrimage through the environs of Donggang. On the first three days, they tour the areas within the town, the central, northern and southern areas. They tour around surrounding farmland on the fourth day.



Ritual Exorcism of Ghosts

The King Boat Processed In Donggang

The Worship Ritual of the King Boat and the Ritual Exorcism of Ghosts

The King Boat is Processed Through the Streets of Donggang

The worship ritual of the King Boat is held on the second day after the end of the pilgrimage. It lasts for two days until the departure of the Royal Lord. Because the Exorcists of Welcome Royal Lord in Donggang are unable to enter the Substituted Heavenly Mansion to hold the ritual, they set up a tent and altar in front of the temple, and perform rituals that were devised to mitigate against the plague, suppress evils and so on.

The main purpose for this is to accept the goods of followers from different places and for taking away of evil and bad things for the local people. The exit of the boat from the golden gate of the Donglong Temple attracts large crowds as it is carried out by the sedan teams. The spectacle of the boat being pulled through the streets and the colourful uniforms of the seven tribes is another highlight of the festival.



The Royal Lord Banquet

Sending The Royal Lords Back To Heaven

The Royal Lord Banquet

The Royal Lords Go Back To The Celestial Realms

The night before the sending off of the Royal Lord a sumptuous feast is prepared. This is the opportunity for the Chief Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the religious pilgrims of the town to give thanks to all the Royal Lords for blessing the town and undertaking the removal of so many bad things.

As the clock ticks beyond midnight towards 2 am the Chief Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers invite the tablets of Royal Lord to leave. Others will remove the relevant items at the Substituted Heavenly Mansion to resettle them on the boat.

Around midnight, the long solemn feast begins inside the temple. It involves a massive spread of 108 dishes, the traditional meal of scholars. Famous foods, local snacks, fruit and wine are plied on the Wangye, thanking them for their help in ridding the community of disease.

After arriving at the beach the sedan bearers help ready the pyre of paper money that will be lit to send the Royal Lords and their boat on its way. The King Boat’s masts will be raised, lamps hung, sails set and anchors fixed. The internal officers lead the Chief Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers to invite the tablets of the Royal Lords get on the boat. When the hour arrives, the Exorcist leads the Chief Prime Minister to take a hoe to open a waterway to the sea, take up the anchor and pyre is lit. Soon, the King Boat is surrounded by burning flames, smoke heading for a far away heaven. According to the old rules, all the sedan carriers and the related duty staff will immediately pack up their flags, stop playing drums, and take off their bamboo hats and belts to leave after the Royal Lord as soon as possible. The festival has finished, but will soon make an appointment to meet again in three years.


Interview by Kevin Ryan with Mr Hsiao ‘Chief Prime Minister’ of the Welcome Royal Lord Festival 2015 Translated and aided by Liao, Yun-Ching and Vicky Hsu

It was a great gift and an enormous privilege in being able to meet with Mr Hsiao once the eight days of the festival had ended. This was an extremely gracious and generous thing for him to do as he had hardly slept in the previous eight days. Ten minutes or half an hour would have been wonderful but this remarkable man sat and talked with us for four hours and invited us to lunch at his wonderful seafood restaurant the following day. His story gives further and personal insight into the powerful processes at work at an organisational, social and supernatural level in the remarkable cycle of events that lead to the Donggang Welcome Royal Lord Festival. Mr Hsiao began: “Since I was very young, I knew that The Welcome Royal Lord Festival was a solemn thing. Everybody here is very religious and sees it as a serious thing. People say that in Donggang ‘If you knew more, you would be afraid of it; if you don’t know, you would not be afraid of it.’ Which means if you knew more, you would obey the rules, but if you don’t know, it will create trouble.” To know the depth and background to the Donggang Welcome Royal Lord Festival and the impact of your own actions during it is therefore very important. Two things come through very strongly as a foreigner visiting for the first time. The first is the enormous sense of discipline that runs through the rituals and ceremonies from everyone directly involved and the second is the warm generosity and sincerity of people attending and working to support the whole process. Mr Hsiao and Yun Ching both had things to say about this. “People are more friendly in the countryside.” “We can compare the North and the South. People seem warmer and more open, more friendly in the South.”


Mr Hsiao at home after the departure of the Royal Lords


Mr Hsiao continued: “During the ceremony, many people will invite you to eat food. ‘Come to eat!‘ They treat God just like they treat their friends. People in this place will welcome you, so that the God will want to come again. So that they will yearn to visit this place.” I was surprised and delighted that even in the middle of an important ceremony the Chief Prime Minister found time to turn, make contact and wave. Even before we had met I felt such a connection, an open sense of friendliness that brought us to share this time of talking together. Mr Hsiao said: “If you just see the serious appearance of a person, but don’t contact with him. Normally, you would not know about him, only see his appearance.” I asked Mr Hsiao how and when the three year process of the ceremonies and the festival begin again… and then partially checked myself as I knew that his role as Chief Prime Minister was already set to change.


For eight days and nights the plaza at Donglong Temple is a hive of activity


Mr Hsiao: “Today is Sunday. Three days after the sending of the King back to the heavens they will have a Ping-An banquet (Peaceful banquet) at Donglong Temple… on the Wednesday. After the banquet, the 7 ‘Prime Ministers’ from the ‘7 tribes’, the Chief Prime Minister and the six Deputy Prime Ministers, will draw the lottery from numbers one to seven. They do this at first before Wen Royal Lord at Donglong Temple. After 3 days, the 7 tribes draw a second lottery to decide the particular responsibility of each tribe for the next festival.” I asked how the presidency (Chief Prime Ministership) passes between the 7 tribes. Vicky, whose father was the Censer Bearer for Da Qian Sui this year answered. Vicky: “They have to decide their jobs first. The first tribe is Da Qian Sui. The main God who receives the Jade Emperor’s imperial edict and substitutes for him to come and inspect the town. The second lottery is the military, security team. This process will decide who will do which one.” The sedans carrying the Gods are very ornate although they have embraced modern tastes and can be covered with sequencing patterns of lights. I knew that some were over 100 years old. I asked if they had come from China?


Prayers are made at the entrance to Donglong Temple


Vicky answered again: “No, they were built here. People emigrated here earlier, before the Republic of China was founded.” I also knew that some of the earlier boats that were burnt, including some really massive ones, had previously been made of paper. I wondered when they had become made of wood and why? Mr Hsiao answered: “It was made of paper before. We started to make wooden boats in 1973. The economy of Donggang was not so good before this. When it improved people began to think that the paper boats were not beautiful enough and not a good quality of art. Then, an organisation was formed to make the boats locally. People knew how to build boats. We knew some entrepreneurs and it was they who sponsored the making of the King Boats. They have given such good credit to the locality. The business men would ask the Royal Lord to help their business at Donglong Temple and they received a good response. The economy grew and they also built factories. When they saw the quality of building in wood, they sponsored the materials to build King Boats.” I shared with Mr Hsiao that we had also interviewed Mr Guo after randomly meeting his sister Mei in the street. He had been involved in the building of all of the wooden boats to date with the exception of the very first one. Having talked with others in the town it became apparent that many older people thought that the festival and the town had improved. It struck me that there must have been enormous changes here since the 1950s.


The Hopes and Dreams, Wishes and Prayers hung alongside the King Boat at Donglong Temple


Mr Hsiao replied: “Fifty years ago it was very simple, because for everyone the local economy was not so good. Now that the economy is better, artistic influences and other cultural aspects turn up. For instance, now the technology is better, this influences the look of the festival and things like the sedans, they like to make them more beautiful to attract more people.” “Yet it is the main tradition that is the strength, that and good organisation. There is no place like here. When the time is appropriate, people take the initiative to do things for the festival, they are all volunteers. This is a great thing in Donggang, a really lovely thing. The most precious invisible aspect of our culture here is the 7 tribes. They pass on tradition from generation through generation in Donggang. This culture will keep going, it will never end.” One of the things that caused me some reflection was that so many young people were involved. I wondered if this would change. Will modern life, styles and expectations change this? Yet I also noticed from talking to people how many come back for this festival, young and older from all parts of the world. Just before the last day we met people that we know from Qiaotou, north of Kaohsiung. Every three years they come back. Some of the artists are local some are not. They invite all their friends. It’s become their personal tradition, as well as the societal tradition.


The procession of the Royal Lords passes the Jhen-Hai Temple


Mr Hsiao told us: “During the ceremony, when I was a fisherman, sometimes we just parked the boats in other places and then came back by flights.” Mr Hsiao went on to say: “Everyone is embedded faithfully to this three year process in relation to Donggang. Everybody will lay down their work and be sure to come back. People are so religious. They don’t mind about earning money at this time. Actually, the ceremony is more important than their wedding. They only invite the relatives and friends for the wedding, yet during the Welcome Royal Lord Festival the whole town full of people will come back. “ I told him that I thought it was wonderful, something that is not just about the people who are directly involved through volunteering but of how the whole town is involved. Everybody comes out and does something. It brought up so many reflections about the value and the impact of what had happened. In one sense the whole process is a very powerful way in which social relationships are bound together through the focus on ritual and a religious outcomes.


Busy scenes at the crossroads of the Jhen-Hai Temple


It is remarkably well thought out and developed triennial process through which the design and architecture of religious belief and ritual is embedded in the everyday life and cycles of a specific place. Vicky replied: “Everyone is really touched by this. Because of the faith, the whole town is united, people connect together.” I can only say that from my experience that this was something very special. I told everyone that there were a couple of times, when working on the street to take photographs, that I was so moved that I was almost overwhelmed with emotion and brought to tears… by nothing less than a wonderful and full feeling from the honest and dedicated involvement of those around me. Vicky shared her own feelings: “Since I left, then I came back this time. I came out to the events every day. Every time when I see the ceremony, I almost cried too, I just felt so touched, I am so lucky so blessed to be here, and it’s so good that I know this culture.”


The sedans arrive at Jhen-Hai Beach


Mr Hsiao added: “You just saw your father’s experiences.” Vicky replied: “This ceremony goes on for 8 days. In the morning when I woke up, he had already left. When I went to bed, I didn’t see him. He came back only 3 to 4 hours a night and then he went back to work.” Mr Hsiao expanded: “Her father is the Censer Master this time. The tribe hasn’t carried the Da Qian Sui’s sedan for 33 years (since 11 times). How many 33 years do you have in life? I am the Chief Prime Minister for the tribe. Because we’ve waited for a long time, everybody feels so honoured and very religious and just wants to do their best to welcome Da Qian Sui. Let the God feel that the people of the tribe are so religious. So it can’t be that we wait too long again. “ That set me thinking about the enormous amount of structural organisation needed to bring together this whole series of events… from decisions made within days of the end of the previous three year cycle. Planning starts immediately… perhaps some things are even set up before?


God carrying sedans continue to populate the beach at Jhen-Hai Park.


Vicky: “They all organise so well. Now they need to move things on for next year in three days. This is where it will really begin - we just need to know who is going to play which role. It will all start again this coming Wednesday.” The Chief Prime Minister continued: “We have very good organisation. Once every three years, the board meets which is made of the different tribes. When the time is getting closer, the cadre members of the Donglong Temple set up the committee for the ceremony. The 7 tribes are responsible for the sedans of the Royal Lord. Donglong Temple is responsible for organising this, people who belong to the Electricity Department set up the electric wire, and carpenters of the boat department start to build the boat. When the time is right, the section chief sets up the organisation. All of them are volunteers. I was mindful that Mr Hsiao had been a trawler man in his past and one thing you can’t ignore about Donggang is the large fishing fleet stationed there. During the festival the harbour is full. I was aware of the background issues of depleted fish stocks, particularly the tuna for which the area is famous, but I picked up that there was more to the presence of so many boats. I asked him about this. I also asked about his own personal connection with Taoism for someone who had taken on such an important role… one that is beyond just a social responsibility.


The Ba Jia Jiang are protected on the beach at Jhen-Hai Park, traditionally their fans are raised to avoid ‘bad things’.


He answered: “The worship of God is a personal experience. Some people are very pious, some people can’t feel it. It is personal feeling. As we were fishermen, there were times that we felt insecure fishing in the sea, sometimes the God helped us to get through the rough times. Told me how to do it, sometimes I could really feel the presence. So I think earning money is not very important at this time. If they need help in some of the ceremonies, we must stay to help in it. We just hope and pray that the Gods bless us to be peaceful and safe.” I told him that I was absolutely amazed by everything I had witnessed as a foreigner. There was so much to take in even to begin to understand but I could also ‘read’ many things from what I’d experienced. I wondered what the most important thing was for him about being the Chief Prime Minister this time. Mr Hsiao: “Since I was young I lived in Donggang… until now that is six decades. What I saw and experienced is that the Chief Prime Minister must be a reputable person. To become the Chief Prime Minister this time I experienced that it is not only about money, although money is part of it. I felt that many unexpected things brought together in succession, allowed me to act in service to the Da Qian Sui.”


The mystery of possession by Gods and other spirits is an integral part of the Welcome Royal Lord Festival


“I share some little stories, about my daughter. I was the consultant of the Din-Chung Street tribe. Consultants have to pay money to participate in the activities. In order to reward the consultants, they changed the rules so that consultants can participate in the activities. I didn’t think too much about this at first also didn’t try to do anything at that time. My daughter studied in France.” “When I had become the Chief Prime Minister, she invited her French professor to attend. Because I think we need to be known internationally, I felt hopeful that this would be able to let our culture be known by foreigners.” “One day, my daughter called me at midnight (6:00 morning in France). She asked: “What’s wrong with our family?” I was shocked and replied her: “Bad girl! Why do you say this?!”” “She had dreamed of Chenghuang Ye (The City God) who had called her name. She asked: “Who are you?” The reply was “I am Chenghuang Ye (City God).””


‘Mediators’ engage in shamanic activities to greet the Royal Lords at ‘Welcome Water’


“What’s the matter? Why didn’t you show up in my parents dream and ask them? Why do you see me in France?” He said: “It’s about your father. Ask your aunt and then you will know it.” She replied: “I have three aunts. Which one should I ask?” The God showed the aunt’s face to her. So mysterious! I didn’t know it before but the aunt (my sister in law) was a volunteer at Donglong Temple. The Royal Lord taught her how to read the divine poems. “I went to Chenghuang Ye temple to ask him what’s the indication to my daughter?” “I burned incense and cast blocks to communicate with him. He told me it was due to something about Din-Chung Street tribe. Since then I began to pay more attention to it.”


The name of the Royal Lord Fong is displayed at the barred entrance to Donglong Temple - the Substitute Heavenly Mansion. During the festival the public is prohibited from entering the interior of the temple


“There are so many processes to do with signing up to be the Chief Prime Minister. After asking Chenghuang Ye, I drew a lottery before the Wen Royal Lord at Donglong Temple, then I went to the Royal Lord of Din-Chung Street. To ask if they would permit the position to come to me. I felt that Chenghuang Ye wants to promote me. It’s the triple interaction of the Gods. It’s just like when you wanted to interview me, you ask people to find me, and then find a translator, which is a triangular interaction, all mutually implicated.” “The most mysterious thing was to draw the lottery at the temple of Din-Chung Street. I rarely went there before, maybe I only went there once. Because of Chenghuang Ye, the City God, I went there. A consultant only has 1/1000 chance to participate in the ceremony. I cast the blocks and asked him: ‘Because Din-Chung Street drew the Da Qian Sui this time, if Chenghuang Ye wants to elevate me to be the Chief Prime Minister?’ After casting blocks, the God said he would give me a divine poem. Normally, we should draw the lottery in the lots container. I saw a lot rise up from the 60 lots in the small container before the 7th Lord. It’s the indication of the God. I drew it and got the holy blocks three times.”


The gravity and solemn nature of the events are written into this participant’s face at Crossing the Fire


“The meaning of the divine poem is good. I was not entirely satisfied, but it was acceptable. He permitted me to take the position.” “I asked the God of the Din-Chung Street tribe (because they will carry the Da Qian Sui sedan). To be the Chief Prime Minister, the base price is 2 million NTD. So I suggested 3 million NTD to be generous and then 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 million NTD. There was no answer. Until 3.6 million NTD, then I got the holy blocks. I got the price that was agreed by the God. This was very sensitive, I was not belonging to the tribe. So after casting the blocks, I left straight away.” “After that, the next mystery was that Chenghuang Ye asked me to visit and worship the 7 tribes, Donglong Temple and the Jade Emperor first. He told me I should prepare 9 sets of ritual offering. At the right time and right day, and do it in order over two hours: the first is the Jade Emperor, the second is Wen Royal Lord, the third is the 7 tribes and I should follow a specific and right order.”


A Mazu (Maternal Deity) formation from the Zi-Tian temple marches through the plaza of Donglong Temple


“After worship, Chenghuang Ye asked me to draw a lot. My sister in law told me the divine poem indicated: “Chenghuang Ye said that you just take money ready to be the Chief Prime Minister.” I was so surprised, I thought it’s impossible, because there are so many rich men in Din-Chung Street. “ “I didn’t tell others at that time. I estimated that it would be at least 12 million NTD, not including other small costs. However, it is not just about money, the supernatural power brought many little things together. It was this that made me take the position. If you simply want to strive for it, it may not work. It’s the feeling. To make things happen it is sometimes what people do, but it is also about the God helping.” “When the God asked me to be the Chief Prime Minister, there wasn’t a bid for it yet. The God indicated that I prepare money ready to be the Chief Prime Minister. Nothing had happened yet so I didn’t believe it and even doubted it. However, how do you experience the invisible? This is personal experience, but if you appreciate it, just like me, I felt it to move me in a big way. I felt that I was communicating with God. He promoted me. It just like you interview me now because everything was brought together.”


A temple security guard


“When I was young, I knew it was not easy to be the Chief Prime Minister. In my mind, I am religious to God and also interested in my religion. This has been passed on from generation to generation. I thought about my responsibilities if I took the position, how could I improve what happens and do it well. Art and invisible power are priceless. When I took the position, I tried my best to let the people in Donggang and the next generation experience it.” “Also it was for me to experience that when people are the Chief Prime Minister, why they were so religious? It was for me to know how they experienced it.” Mr Hsiao referred back to how much I was moved and how it had affected him too. “The foreigner was so moved, being in tears, this reaction was mine too. The first day when we went to Welcome Water, I didn’t go into the sedan that will carry me. I walked to the Chenghuang’s (City God’s) Temple to worship and thank him first. I was really moved to the point of crying. If he hadn’t elevated me, I would never have had a chance to do it in my life. I have never expected such an honour on me, the chance is too slim once every three years. 60 years for this person. I think it’s impossible. Now it’s happened to me, I was really moved.”


A mediator with a self flagellation weapon before the King Boat’s house at Donglong Temple


Yun Ching said to Mr Hsiao: “Your wife told me that the Da Qian Shui was very happy and held your hand as you went into the temple because you gave him a feast of such luxurious dishes.” Mr Hsiao replied: “Before he came to my place I had a premonition that Da Qian Shui may come to my altar. When I arrived there, I really felt he came to me. So I consulted him on something. I saw him holding the stick writing and laughing, very happy. I felt that he thought he had chosen the right person.” “He held my hand as I went into the temple. The person is small but the strength from the God is very powerful. I felt his power, he held my hand and walk all the way from the golden gate to the incense burner in front of the temple. Then he released his hand, to let me invite his tablet into the temple.” “The movement is unprecedented. He doesn’t do it normally. Probably because I know how to communicate with God. I waited for him before he arrived at the temple. You would feel that such a friend is so sweet.”


A group of musicians approach the Substitute Heavenly Mansion at Donglong Temple


“It’s like the story when we went to see my daughter in France. We were arriving in Lyon. When the train was slowly approaching, my daughter’s home stay parents started running to chase the train. We were very moved to see this. They love my daughter very much and they get along so well. They even ran to catch the train. It’s the same feeling of God. We treat God in a very pious way, so the Gods also give us some feedback, and we feel very touched.” I wanted to clarify the process of the finding of the name of the Da Qian Sui at Welcome Water. I was still a little confused. I shared with him that people had told us that the name was known two or three days before everyone went to the beach. I also told him that I didn’t quite understand how the people around the beach, we called them mediators or shamans, receive the messages and how these are transmitted to decide the Da Qian Sui and the other Gods who come. I asked Mr Hsiao if he could describe the process to us?


The Prosecutor


Mr Hsiao: “When the Da Qian Sui is coming, he lets us know three days before. We ask the Wen Royal Lord (Wen Wang Ye) by casting blocks to know who will come. We cast blocks at 11 pm on the night before to prepare for the Welcome Water event the following day.” “The mediators take the divining sticks in the Welcome Water ritual. Only people in yellow uniforms, the chosen tribe this time, can report the family name of Da Qian Sui (meaning Big Thousand Year Royal Lord).“ “He has two deputies. Others are the second and third, the rest are fourth, fifth Qian Sui and the military. When we invite Da Qian Sui, we also invite his assistants. Normally, the main God would not arrive in the beginning, usually the deputies come first. If Da Qian Sui feels our sincerity, he will come. If Da Qian Sui has entered the reporter (mediator), his movement and gestures are very different. When the mediator came he was also very confident, he laughed out loudly, then wrote “I have received the Jade Emperor’s Imperial edict and substituted him to inspect the town in Yi-Wei year Fong (his family name)”. He wrote the family name confidently, and he was the right God!”


Fu-Chou, Bai-Long An (White Dragon Temple), Wu-Fu Royal Lord (Five Fortune Royal Lord), Shih Jia Jiang pass over the faithful to protect and bless them


“They choose a stick from the sedan and use it instead of a pen. Two people hold the stick, the front person is the mediator who responds to Da Qian Sui. When he feels the God coming, he goes to the stage to write the family name on the incense plate.” Mr Hsiao continued: “Only three people know the family name at 11 pm the night before the first day of the ceremony. The Chief Prime Minister, the ceremony section chief and chairman of the board. The next day is Welcome Water. There are 36 last names of the Gods who could come in substitution of the Jade Emperor.” “We ask Royal Lord by casting blocks of 12 last names. If it’s not happened, just wait for a while. Then, change to another other set of 12 last names. If we cast three holy blocks, that’s the right name. When we know it, we can’t leak it out. To leak it out is meaningless. The culture is very special and mysterious in Donggang. People in the whole town want to know the family name, but they were afraid to ask it. God is, if you know it, you are afraid of it; if you don’t know, you are not afraid of it. If you leak it out, something may happen. It’s just like you can’t leak out the confidential letters of a company. You should have sincerity.“


During the Welcoming King period every household will prepare an incense table to welcome the arrival of the Da Qian Sui. In addition to flowers and fruits, the incense altar also sports a table skirt to show courtesy.


“I felt a lot of pressure on stage at Welcome Water. I worried that we would not get the right name. I was so glad when they came to report.” “If they had kept reporting the wrong name, and if hadn’t arrived until very late, I would have been very nervous. Sometimes the God just sees our sincerity and at the right time, if he wants to come, he just shows up.” “It is like your best friend coming to the town. Everybody is waiting to take a part. Everybody is waiting to start the festival together.” Yun Ching asked about the role of so many ‘mediators’ or ‘spirit mediums’: “Many mediators respond to Gods on the beach. Are all of them inviting Da Qian Sui?” Vicky replied: “Only our people in the yellow uniforms can invite Da Qian Sui.” Mr Hsiao added a correction: “All the people of the 7 tribes invite the Gods together. The more people who invite them, the higher sincerity so that Da Qian Shui may come earlier, but it is only people in the yellow uniforms who can report the Da Qian Shui on stage this time.”


A procession passes through the plaza of the Donglong Temple. Above the crowd you can see the rich decoration of the Substitute Heavenly Mansion


“In another similar ceremony in the small Liuqiu Island offshore there are different customs. There, if they report three times, and the Da Qian Sui still hasn’t come, it is then open to other sedans to go on the stage. This is because the main sedans can’t get the Da Qian Sui.” “I was acting on behalf of the Donggang people, so I was very nervous. Everybody trusted and held expectations on that moment. This is also mysterious. It’s not easy to guess the name. Sometimes they have repeated the same family name as many as 13 times. If the mediator tries to guess it, why do they report the same name? If they have reported two or three names the same it shows that the reporters haven’t colluded.” Yun Ching wondered about the number of mediators: “One of our friends who was in the military team told us that anyone could be chosen by God. I am curious that so many people can become mediators. I was so surprised that there were so many mediators welcoming God on the beach. I also saw many young people possessed by Gods.”


An array of Ba Jia Jiang approach the King Boat


Mr Hsiao: “There is no regular pattern here. Sometimes the God possesses different people. As they see some people they like, they possess them. Sometimes God chooses young people on purpose instead of choose old one, because people can feel his power. ” Vicky said: “It’s a little nervous to see, if someone is suddenly possessed.” Mr Hsiao: “It’s like you are a vessel, the God wants to choose you as the messenger.” Yun Ching: “Why do the Gods send messages through people? What’s the meaning for it?” Mr Hsiao began to talk about some of the irregularities that can arise through actions during the festival or festival build up: “There are times when some of the duties the Gods give you haven’t been done well, so they want to let you know. Such as the tablet of the military didn’t get off the sedan. They stopped there for a long time. We were waiting for worship the God. Then a security guard came to tell me that nobody could deal with it.”


Offerings at the Donglong Temple


“It was because something happened between the tribe of the military and the Song-Jiang Formation, accidentally. The military were angry, because they didn’t apologise for it. Some people came to me, so I had to deal with it. It was situation guided by flag, so that the security guard would go.” “They said that the military didn’t want to get off, because a flag had dropped down from the drum cart before the Song-Jiang. This may be an omen. These things can be important for people.” “Then, there were something else that happened after two days, someone set fire-crackers next to the Tong-An temple. The fireworks shot into the sedan, and three flames of the military were put out. I asked: “Were they on purpose?” Because the lane is narrow, the young people were careless, so had caused the accident.” “In another incident the horse groom’s feet were stepped on by the horse and bled. These were small things, yet very sensitive. I said that I could deal with these things, to spend money to solve or in many ways.”


The office to distribute ghost paper and ‘temple money’ at Donglong Temple


“After working things out the military could get off. I asked them write it on the incense ash. The mediator said: “Tell the sedan carrier of the military to be careful in procession tomorrow.” He wrote “King Horse” and “Fire”. Do you indicate that the horse should be careful of firecrackers in the procession? He said yes.” “This is a precursor, a signal before something happened, some knowledge that there will be a small episode.” “In order to avoid it happening again, because we want things to go satisfactorily, the God will show you. It is probably to do with a previous karma. Sometimes people who carry the sedan would not notice these things. The God reminds you first. It’s unavoidable that things happen, but they can be prevented from happening again. Otherwise, it’s not good for Da Qian Sui. Two ceremonies ago, the security team was blamed by Da Qian Sui for getting into the temple too late…”


The Festival is supported by many characters, troupes and uniformed or costumed roles


I asked about the significance of the incense pots that people present to the leading figures of the processions as they approach the temples. Just watching the processions, each of the sedans comes to the temple, and there is a incense pot. It looks like a strong challenge and then it becomes a welcome, it’s like a strong thing going on between the two characters. It’s almost like a question or something to show strength, like, a challenge about who you are? Then when you prove yourself there is some kind of understanding. Is that basically what’s happening? What does it that represent? Vicky: “The incense burner. It’s spirit. We burn the incense as a sacrifice to the Gods.” Mr Hsiao: “The God comes to the temple, the person at the temple who holds the incense burner is there to welcome him. Sometimes when a God arrives at a temple, they will show their power to show that you should respect me, to act and be serious. It’s not an angry thing.”


Prayers and worship in the presence of the King Boat


I told Mr Hsiao that so many remarkable things happened for us in taking forward our work here. It felt like things happened to help our way. So many things just happened, so right that we felt very connected and welcome. Yun Ching added: “Yes, we are so lucky. We came here for the first time and researched for information before. When we were first here we interviewed a person who built many King Boats and now we interview the Chief Prime Minister. Many people treated us to foods and drinks during the ceremony. So looked after on many levels. We felt that everything goes smoothly. So unbelievable!!” Vicky: “Yes, the Chief Prime Minister just mentioned the same things. Everything falls into the right place.” Mr Hsiao explained: “We respect guests who visit Donggang more in recent times. Now the economy is better, so we prepare more foods for guests.”


One of the seven tribes parading through the streets of Donggang - those in pink are responsible for the Second Royal Lord


“Some people prepare 1,500 or more set foods for foreign visitors. Because we are afraid of some shops being closed during the ceremony, it also lets people feel warm and gives a good impression of Donggang. Although it’s a simple thing, yet it’s also touching. If you ask the direction of someone here, they may even take you to the place.” There are many visitors from the surrounding areas and other parts of Taiwan as well as slowly increasing numbers of foreigners coming to the festival. Donggang has a similar population to the town where I live in the UK - for me 60-70,000 people. During the festival the numbers of visitors coming and going may be as much three to four times that of the local population. When Mr Hsiao explained the warmth and hospitality of the welcome from local people it echoed our experience… invitations to tea and dinner, banquets even! The day after our interview Mr Hsiao himself treated us to a wonderful meal in his restaurant - a real treat from someone who has featured in the book ‘Top 100 Chefs @ Taiwan’.


The palanquin is loaded onto a lorry following procession in a more outlying area of Donggang


I have a deep sense of respect for the people and their beliefs in Donggang and I hope with all my heart that in promoting the festival more broadly that others come to it in that spirit. The generosity and care of the people there should not be taken lightly but cherished as something very special in this world. Perhaps my next question was a little tongue in cheek but I was so warmed to Mr Hsiao, a very dignified, energetic, spirited and impressive man with a very down to earth approach and sense of humour. So I asked him: “Are you the tallest Chief Prime Minister ever?� There was much laughter!


Chao-Long Temple, Donggang - Mazu (Maternal Deity) Honour Guard


Mr Hsiao was amused but also saw this as a serious question: “Yes, I think I am the candidate Da Qian Sui wanted to choose. He wants to choose someone who has good figure. The fact that he elected me is very decent. The military gave me a pair of special shoes. I respected the dress that the Chief Prime Minister wears. I thought it would not be suitable, if I’m in sneakers. Because the Da Qian Sui was dispatched by Jade Emperor, it’s impolite for me to wear sneakers. I also worried that people would laugh at me, so I consulted the military first: “The ceremony is very important. I have the right costume already, yet I just need a pair of shoes. Is it suitable to make a pair of boots?” The leader agreed with me to do it, so I made them. It really gave me a powerful manner when I was in the boots. You see the Exorcists, the shoes of the Exorcists’ leader are higher than others.”


The Inspection Tour is welcomed at one of Donggangs’s many temples


“When we worship Gods, we should know the manner. The division leading the ceremonies also leads us to wash hands, face and organise our clothing. Everything completed, we worship Da Qian Sui and entertain feasts. We pay attention to the etiquette, also the Chief Prime Minister is qualified and creates the right conditions to do it. Some people who don’t know it all may say that the Chief Prime Minister is a wiseacre. If people didn’t respect it in any way before I think it must start from us.“ Yun Ching chipped in: “It was like you were born to be the Chief Prime Minister.” Vicky added: “You have the manner of a King!” Mr Hsiao: “Yes, I was the tallest Chief Prime Minister!”, said with tired, red eyes still sparkling and complemented by his massive grin!


The Chief Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Ministers at the Ritual Exorcism of Ghosts


He carried on: “If I haven’t gotten permission from the God, I wouldn’t have dared to do it myself. I worshipped God since I was young. I didn’t disobey God and also considered many details. I got the position and did a lot of work to make things better. To let the Gods know that we regard the clothing and etiquette. God would tell me how to do it. “ “I have made the pair of shoes a long time ago, but I didn’t wear them when we starting on building the boat and the worship rituals. I didn’t wear them until Welcome Royal Lord Festival. I would consult the Gods on details and manners when I participated in the ceremonies.” Yun Ching: “It’s an impressive style and you were also devoted to so many details. This is also a good spirit.” Vicky: “We appreciate you very much and know why you are so successful in your business and other things. People don’t see these things always on the outside.” Mr Hsiao, who obviously liked his ceremonial boots a lot, added: “I’ve never thought that the pair of shoes would be more comfortable than sneakers. When I tried them it felt a little twisted at home, yet they were so very comfortable when I went out. They are more comfortable than sneakers.”


The Exorcists perform their rituals to entrap and dispel ghosts and evil spirits


I wanted to ask about a specific temple (there are around 80 in Donggang) where I had felt a very lively and energetic spirit, including many martial arts actions. It was a place where I also took one of my own favourite pictures of the festival. So I asked, ‘The temple by the beach, the very beautiful Jin-Hai Temple, does that have some very special significance, more than just a local community temple?’ Everybody goes there as it is the last station before the beach. Mr Hsiao: “The temple is near the beach. There is also a tribe there. The chairman of the temple is also a builder of fishing boats and war vessels. You can visit there where they build, it has been made a global thing. He has good skill, some foreigners have invited him to build boats.” “The temple’s location is very special, we have to pass by there to Welcome Water. It’s the first temple so we go there and come back. It’s made by Chinese cypress, more creative and modern. Donglong Temple is a classic beauty.” “The chairman of the temple used to build the fishing boats, also made the King Boat.” We ate some delicacies brought in by Mrs Hsiao and drank more tea.


The King Boat is brought out into the plaza of the Donglong Temple for inspection and loading


Mr Hsiao began again: “3 days from now, they will draw a lottery to know who will carry Da Qian Sui sedan. You can follow it on the website these days.” I asked if tribes had ever carried the sedan two or three times running? Mr Hsiao: “Before the last time Din-Tou District got it twice. An-Hai Street also had it that they were re-elected. Din-Chung Street also asked me to draw a re-election. I said it’s a lot of pressure. However, I think the Royal Lord is fair. An average of three times for each tribe in the past 60 years. If they didn’t get Da Qian Sui, they got Wen Royal Lord. So the Gods are very fair.” “Lun-Din District has only carried Da Qian Sui twice, yet carried Wen Royal Lord many times. They got re-elected or got it on the next year. Din-Tou District have never carried Wen Royal Lord, but carried Da Qian Sui four times. Wen Royal Lord is the local god, the host in the locality.” More snacks are offered but I am so full!


The King Boat is processed through the streets of Donggang


I told Mr Hsiao that from my research about Donggang I was fascinated by the fishing here and the places where fish come in. It is apparent that the town has come into being and grown largely from trade, farming and fishing. I wanted to photograph that part of life, some background and context to the place where the festival takes place. I told him that when we went to the fish market, it was lively but the wholesale area, the landing area was empty and being cleaned. Walking on, there were so many boats in harbour - the fishing and the unloading of the catch was not happening, because of the festival. It felt very special that it wasn’t happening. Because that’s the reality in this community. You can have idea from a long way away but the reality is different. I want to show this too, because it also relates to the festival, talk of the experience of the fishermen and the needs of a town that depends on the risks of their work. The fact, that the spectacle of the unloading and sorting of the catch was not there, in itself, tells a story and is also very special. Mr Hsiao replied: “The fishermen have great credit during the Welcome Royal Lord Festival, unless they are not Dongang people. Fishermen can still not go out after the ceremony for another three days. If they go out, generally something will happen. Some fishermen worked very hard, they may go out immediately after the ceremony. They dragged back the anchor in the nets instead of fish. You may feel some strange things happen, so they will not go out.”


The Chief Prime Minister leads the procession of the King Boat through the streets of Donggang


I shared my thoughts that, as a photographer, that it didn’t matter that there was little to photograph because that was part of the story of what happens at this time in Donggang. It’s not just about images but meanings, and stories… and from my wider interests and background as a community based artist, context is everything. Vicky made reference to our presence in the town: “I also really hope foreigners can know about this festival. When I saw them first day, I didn’t talk to them. I saw them the second time, I went to talk to them. Then, my parents met them on the feast.” Mr Hsiao said: “Since you have the heart to come here, Da Qian Sui also bless you and arranges for you to announce it to the world.” I was very moved and replied simply, ‘Yes we have talked and we feel that way too…’ Mr Hsiao: “It’s really God that arranges for you to announce it. The foreigners who were invited by my daughter also fared well.”


An elaborate feast is prepared and ritual performances take place on the closing night of thanks to the Royal Lords


“I took them to worship the Royal Lord. They also wore the uniform of the Din-Chung Street. One is my daughter’s professor from France.” “I was the Chief Prime Minister then, so my daughter invited them here. I wonder how, when they come from a society with Christian beliefs that they come here to know us? We are also curious when there, the churches are very beautiful.” “Before they came here, I reported to Donglong Temple. They also prepared the identification passes for them. When they knew I would be the Chief Prime Minister, some people hoped I could announce it to abroad. They knew that I understand it deeply. However, it needed some ways to become globalised. It’s difficult. The past Chief Prime Ministers didn’t interfere in this too much. They know that I would like to promote things.” I wondered about the impact of people coming with little appreciation of the meaning of the festival beyond the spectacle of the processions and the burning of the boat. I shared something that had disturbed me a little at the end of the burning. Some young Americans were there on the beach having fun and they set firecrackers on the beach. I really thought they shouldn’t do that as I knew it to be disrespectful and even at risk of calling for the return of the Gods. An old man rapidly came over to them to tell them to stop. People need to know to respect things if they come here and to feel the depth of what is happening. I heard one of them make a comment that was simply immature and outside of the strength of what had happened in the last eight days. Really ignorant of the dedication and meaning behind the three years in which the festival was built.


A feast for the Royal Lords is prepared at Donglong Temple


I told Mr Hsiao that I found the silence on the beach profoundly beautiful. Everything has finished… maybe just the waves and slow crackling of the pyre. Mr Hsiao replied: “After burning the boat, everybody turned around and left the beach, closed the flags and stopped play drum. We can’t set firecrackers for three days. When we were children, we couldn’t even turn on the music.” Going back through the town it was just so quiet, the contrast was incredible. Vicky added: “I walked all the way from the beach to where they store our sedan. I felt completely overwhelmed that this was the end. Everybody played their roles so profoundly, deeply from the beginning to the end. Everything is very quiet for me too.” Yun Ching: “I feel very deeply. To understand it though would take some thought. People from outside that come here should have the heart to respect. There are many details. I did some research before I came, yet when I experienced here, when I saw the 7 sedans then I knew how it is. Each tribe has a different responsibility.” Mr Hsiao: “The culture of the 7 tribes is passed from generation to generation. When the Royal Lord came in the past, people were on their knees and took off their hats. Nobody could stand higher than the boat and the Gods.”


Sedans at rest on the last night at Jhen-Hai Temple - the nearest to the departure point of the Royal Lords


Yun Ching: “I have participated in some of the carnivals in the UK, and felt the cultural shock. After returning to Taiwan, I participated in the Wen Royal Lord ritual in Yancheng Pu, Kaohsiung, and began to notice that Taiwan’s cultural festivals have such rich meaning and are profoundly interesting. I also went to the Mazu procession in April this year. Now I visit the Donggang Welcome Royal Lord Festival I really feel even more depth.” Mr Hsiao: “I think it’s even deeper than the Matsu procession. No other place has such a strong lineup as the 7 tribes. When I was young, I knew the 7 tribes, and I respected them when I was the Chief Prime Minister. I want to connect the 7 tribes and see how to improve them during the three years. I have completed the mission now. If we wanted to do something for ourselves, like going abroad a year before the Welcome King ceremony, we had to report to the Royal Lord. This is the invisible mission, we have big responsibility. If anything goes wrong, we cannot afford it. This is our local culture, I felt so honoured and worthy.” I asked Mr Hsiao if he felt changed by his experience over the last three years? Mr Hsiao replied: “I felt that my life has risen up to another level. Because I thought it a great honour, so after being the Chief Prime Minister, my vision became greater. At last I didn’t haggle over every penny, I was magnanimous already. Because it’s really not easy to be the Chief Prime Minister, I experience that my vision became broader, from one thousand metres to 10 thousand metres!”


The masts are installed and erected on the King Boat


“When I was first the Chief Prime Minister, I had to haggle every penny with the others involved. The invisible things are so mysterious. I would tell them on my duty if they need to improve. When my mission was completed, I even thought, why I was so picky to them before. However, it was because I hoped to make things better when I was being the helper of the God. I serviced the God, so I should report everything to the God. That which is invisible is similar to the arts. We respect it. It’s just like a piece of wood’s status, you can be very pious, be very moved by fine arts or the spirit in the wood. But If you don’t respect it, it just a piece of wood.” “I would drive it. People would see my example. The Chief Prime Minister respects the Gods very seriously. I demonstrated etiquette and I wanted to do it perfectly, to let people see it. Although I was very tired, I was also determined to explore it. I couldn’t waste my time during the 8 days. I was very pious and participated in each ritual in 8 days. Some people would ask their son or son-in-law substitute for them, I didn’t do that. I slept 5 hours in 8 days. I mainly want to understand the whole process, to understand all of the details. So I can raise up my level; otherwise, I will just stop in the same place. Artists are the same, they act in ways so that their level can be raised up.” It was very clear from speaking to Mr Hsiao that he is someone who is very focused, someone with a great ability to keep everything together. That’s important. I can tell too that he is very down to earth, someone who has great strength with other people and strong in himself. To have that kind of strength for all that time maybe came from his working life but during this time also with the blessings and connection he felt with the Gods. Such energy has come through this.


The Royal Lords are installed on the King Boat and the Chief Prime Minister makes his way off the boat


Mr Hsiao said: “When people want to make reforms it is definite that more people will complain. I have no choice at times but to be a ‘bad cop’. For example, an important thing happened today (the last day of the ceremony). The God announced that the military should get on the boat first. How come it was changed this time? The military should inspect all the things in Donggang a whole year ago, then report what they saw to Da Qian Sui. So he asks them first because he wants the military to take the responsibility. To check and confirm that everything is arranged, that it is safe, then we can invite Da Qian Sui to get on the boat. You can’t allow Da Qian Sui to see that they did not get things right. Therefore, it was corrected today, the military should get on the boat first, to inspect, to follow the old etiquette. They checked first and made sure there was no problem. Da Qian Sui only came on board first, because people changed the tradition recklessly, by themselves.” “I had no choice but to be a bad cop. Being the Chief Prime Minister, I have the responsibility. I told them, ‘what I can do is to tell you that you should co-operate with me’. Although I have completed my three-year duty, I still can’t figure out why this task was on me. My wife said I was born in Yi-Wei Year, I was being the Chief Prime Minister of Yi-Wei Year (the same year of the Chinese calendar). I am thinking when I was born, did God arrange the mission for me 60 years ago? It’s mysterious, may be the God has given me the mission a long time before.” “I want to say it’s a local culture, I must do it well. Especially, I was acting on behalf of the people of Donggang, I needed to present it manifestly well. It is only held once every three years, and it has been changed, many original features are gone.”


Dawn approaches and the pyre of ghost paper is ignited, filling the air with thick smoke


“I think it may have been hard work for the temple during the three years of my position, I’m quite vocal and used to being in charge. Because I saw a mission in those three years, I wanted to emphasise the tradition. For the right reasons, for the public benefit, not for private reasons. Therefore, I think this was usually recognised and people generally respected what I asked for. People who had some ideas in Donggang came to me, many people said you have to change things. If it can’t be changed, at least you have to suggest it.” “I am assertive. Fishermen are vocal naturally, but this loud voice is not malicious. Like the foreigner (meaning myself) coming, he has done a lot of homework to understand it in depth, so he is in a reasonable position to say something naturally. This time I’ve corrected things. The Chief Prime Minister invited the God of the boat in the past. The Boat God was invited by the boat builders in the last ceremony three years ago. However, the Boat God should be invited by the Chief Prime Minister. So they listened to me, everybody respected me. They arranged things properly, because they knew that I am expert. If something was needed by me, they would let me do it.“ “I was really moved by God during the 7-8 days. I was in tears some times. I experienced so much. I am a country person, God still moved me in tears.” “It’s really not easy to do it, really God promoted it. I had to communicate everything with the Gods. The invisibleness lets you feel that they are priceless and meaningful. So I felt very touched.”


The King Boat burns vigorously as most of those assembled on the beach leave quickly and quietly, observing the taboos


Vicky said: “The TV station should interview you.” In our conversations it was clear that there was some concern that the eight days of events and rituals should be fully understood. Mr Hsiao replied: “They didn’t understand... the depth in a short TV report is not enough. They cannot present the features of local culture fully enough.” His daughter Yu-Hsuan added: “They filmed the ceremony in a very utilitarian way. It comes across as if they see the idea that culture is somehow for profit, concerned to show economic values. We spend money because of our religious belief, not for profit.” A break for more tea and food. Mr Hsiao turned to Vicky and referenced the French guests who stayed with them through the week and then Yun Ching and I - “The French are the same as them. They ask questions very deeply. The artist here has good qualifications. Because the foreigner comes here to investigate, this is why we should tell them more information, so they have enough material to write.” At this point and with smiles, many thanks and laughter we all decided that after these eight days it was now a good time to stop and just relax for a bit. This wonderful man extended an invitation to lunch the following day…


A last, lone, mast collapses onto the smouldering pyre


Postscript Returning to Donggang for a few days in 2017 it was a great privilege to meet the senior officials of Donglong Temple and other family members and to conduct a further interview with Mr Hsiao and meet and talk with educationalist Mr Su. We are indebted to Mr Hsiao and Wu, Shui-Yuan and Chuang, You-Ming of the Temple and Mr Su for their warm generosity and openness in sharing their time, knowledge and of course their wonderful Taiwanese hospitality. This further visit was, in part, facilitated by Hung, Hsueh-Fang and Li, Meng-Tse, who introduced us to Su, Huang-Wen of Mu Ri Shui Hsiang who gave us valuable background perspective to the Festival. We were also so fortunate to meet with artist/designer Yang, Yi and many local photography friends. The further reason for the visit was to photograph the ‘sea harvest’ - the fishing port in action... originally to contribute images to this book and get a better sense of the life of the town in this respect. However, there are none of those pictures in this book because fishing at the time of the festival runs counter to the beliefs that surround it. We produce this book now on the eve of a further trip to Donggang with artists Paul Gent and James Chantry for the 2018 festival. We hope to produce a second book and exhibition and also work with more local people to develop our relationship with this remarkable town.


Wu, Shui-Yuan the Chair of Donglong Temple


This book was made possible by the kindness and efforts of:

Liao, Yun-Ching Hsiao, Shou-Fa Hsiao, Yu-Hsuan Vicky Hsu Chen, Mei-Lian Kuo, Long-Mu Yang, Yi Hung, Hsueh-Fang Li, Meng-Tse Su, Huang-Wen Wu, Shui-Yuan Chuang, You-Ming Chuang, Kuo-Yu Natalie Chabaud Chang Chih-Yi Desmond Ryan Ming Turner Colin Turner Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan has been involved in community based arts projects and issue based work for over forty years. As a community photographer he has co-established and run community darkrooms and undertaken scores of projects producing collective exhibitions, publications and multi-media work. His own photography and writing work has been exhibited and/or published in the UK, Japan, Taiwan, China, Syria, Italy, USA, the Netherlands and India. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the community arts and media charity Charnwood Arts.


Vice-Chairman Chuang, You-Ming of Donglong Temple talks to Hung, Hsueh-Fang on a follow up visit to Donggang in 2017


Do not disturb or walk through the ranks of formations such as generals, Song Jiang formation or similar groups. Do not climb on or damage any facilities of the Substituted Heavenly Mansion, the Palace Theatre Stage, the 36 provinces lantern brackets, piles of paper money and flagpoles etc. Please respect privacy and where possible obtain consent before photographing close-up. Please worship and welcome the Gods before photographing their statues, and also do not stand higher than the sedans. Female friends do not cross the fire, touch the sedans, the King Boat and its equipment. Women are not permitted to wear the bamboo hat of those carrying the sedans. Give respect to the Royal Lord who substitutes the Jade Emperor in inspecting the town, with basic courtesy, you don’t need to stand to attention, but you may take off your hat standing respectfully to welcome the passage as the Royal Lord passes by. Also, do not loiter at the Substituted Heavenly Mansion during the period of Welcome Royal Lord Festival. Do not stand at a height to watch the ceremony or above the height of the King Boat. Do not stand on the paper money when the Royal Lord is sent. When the King Boat is burnt, do not express pity or applause, don’t regret its passing. Don’t set off firecrackers or fireworks, play music or sing, these things are forbidden. When you leave don’t call out the name of a friend, just leave quietly from the beach. Traditionally a moratorium on the playing of music, loud noise and putting to sea to fish is observed for three days following the departure of the Da Qian Sui.


From Taoyuan International Airport: Take the airport shuttle bus to the THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) From the Taoyuan THSR station travel to Kaohsiung THSR station You can then transfer by bus or taxi to Donggang. You can buy High speed Rail ticket on-line or at the station. http://www.thsrc.com.tw/index_en.html

From Kaohsiung International Airport: You can take a bus or taxi to Donggang. Buses go from Kaohsiung THSR - Take the bus 9127 (in front of the bus station of Kaohsiung THSR) Bus time and route: www.ibus.com.tw/intercity-bus/south-tw/route-9127/ A taxi to Donggang more than halves the travel time but can be a little expensive. You can also catch the bus from Kaohsiung Main Station (Train station): Go to the Ho-Hsin bus station and buy a ticket at the window.


This book is based on personal experiences of the 2015 Welcome Royal Lord Festival in Donggang, South Taiwan. It features the photographic work of Kevin Ryan, a UK based photographer and community artist, and the texts and translation work of Liao, Yun-Ching. The book also contains illustrations by the artist Yang, Yi. The main text of the book features an interview with the Chief Prime Minister of the 2015 Festival which gives an ethnographic insight into the three year long process for which the festival itself marks the final stage.