1979 / 7月
Only the time-worn buildings and stories recounted by the oldest residents are reminders that Lukang on the west-central coast of Taiwan was one of the most prosperous centers on the island about a century ago. Recently, however, a group of young people has become dissatisfied with the mere recollection of past glory. They decided to organize a national folk art activities week in Lukang.
As visitors entered the ancient town for the second of these festivals recently, the first thing came into view was a ceremonial arch bearing the legend "Lukang Tourist Week." Along the main thoroughfare, red lanterns were hung from the eaves of houses, and vendors appeared at every corner competing for tourists' patronage with bargain prices. The four hotels in the town were full to capacity.
Folk art activities held during the week were dragon boat races, across-the-river tug-of-war, kite-flying competitions, calligraphy and painting exhibitions, poetry recitals, painting contests, handicraft exhibitions, a traditional market, potted plants show, and theatrical performances such as nan kuan, shadow play and puppet shows.
One of the most eye-catching of these activities was a folk art presentation by Wu Tung-ho, who showed his lantern painting techniques in a corridor of the Lungshan Temple. Also attracting attention were Huang Chen-chi's dexterous technique in making bamboo lanterns, and displays of sachets, incense containers, bamboo utensils, paper cut-outs and wood carvings.
As the festivities drew to a close, visitors and residents alike were looking forward to an even more grandiose spectacle next year.
The last and best-attended activity during Lukang's national folk art festival was the dragon boat races, held to commemorate the boats rushing down the river to save Chu Yuan, a loyal minister in the state of Chu centuries ago.
After the eyes were painted on the dragons in a ritual ceremony on May 1, the boats were carried shoulder-high through the streets. Then they were launched on the river, and the races officially started. The cheers and applause of the spectators on the banks of the river mingled with the beats of the drums and gongs to create a feeling of excitement. Stamina, experience, body control and teamwork are the key elements in winning a dragon boat race. As each boat approaches the finishing line, the gong beater leans out over the bow, balancing his weight on his upper thighs like a gymnast on a side-horse. The one who seizes the flag is the winner, even if his boat is slightly behind. Not surprisingly, the flag snatcher sometimes falls out of the boat in his enthusiasm. A useful ploy in winning the race is to ruffle the water at the stern with the rudder, which lifts the bow out of the water and reduces friction.
During an interval in the dragon boat race program, the across-the-river tug-of-war is held. A main rope strung between the banks of the Fulu river has five branch strings at either side manned by four people. To prevent the main rope from being submerged in the water, it is supported by 20 floating oil drums. The winner is the side which pulls its opponents into the water first.
During the reigns of the Emperors Chien Lung and Chia Ching of the Ching dynasty, immigration and trade between Canton, Fukien and Taiwan brought to Lukang skills in making exquisite handicrafts such as wooden and bamboo utensils, carved temple decorations and accessories, as well as in the manufacture of incense.
The sculptures of god images, palanquins, temple roofs and other decorations by the masters of Lukang have earned nationwide acclaim. Numerous stores display exquisitely designed furniture such as eight-immortals table, closet, screens and chairs. High quality raw materials, special designs and skilled carving techniques have made the 50-odd temples in the Lukang area museums in themselves.
During the national folk arts presentation, Wu Chin-po displayed his technique in making fantastic god-images. Using files and a hammer, Wu created life-like Goddess of Mercy, Matsu and Maitreya images. During the arts festival, a delicately designed palanquin (below right) and religious instruments (above right) were on public display.
Incense is an important ingredient of any religious festival. Most of the incense shops in Lukang were founded several decades ago, and each has a secret recipe passed on through the generations. Lin Tang-chi, proprietor of a 60-year-old Lishochun Incense Shop, displayed to the public his manufacturing technique during the festival.
After scattering a bunch of polished bamboo sticks on the ground, he discarded those which were too soft or too slender. Then, from a plastic bag, he poured out a fragrant powder made from the bark of aromatic trees and Chinese herbs. After double sifting, the powder is spread on the table, and each of the bamboo sticks, after being dipped in water is rolled through the mixture. After being sun-dried, the sticks are ready for the market. Lin said that he can produce 100 catties of incense a day.
Lukang's Wu Chen incense was regarded as being of the best quality during the Ching dynasty. At a cost of NT$1,600 (US$44) per catty, it is today the most expensive of all, since regular incense sells at between NT$40 and NT$100 a catty. Pictures show, from top, the Dragon King god in Lukang's Lungshan Temple, drawing lots, and making incense.
Kite-flying on the beach near Lukang drew thousands of tourists and local residents of Lukang. The miniature kites ranged from those shaped as young girls or scholars to those in the form of birds, reptiles, insects, tigers and snakes. The most eye-catching, however, were the large kites, such as one in the form of a centipede divided into 30 segments, and a horned dragon. To get kites in the air is an art in itself. By running, pulling and appropriately snapping the lead string, and then catching an air current, the kites rise higher and higher, sometimes climbing in a straight line, sometimes buckling like an inchworm. Kites are artistic, scientific and educational toys. There is a special art in designing a kite so that it will look realistic in the air, while at the same time retaining its ability to rise easily and fly well.
Chu Ying club in Lungshan Temple is one of the few nan kuan troupes, dedicated to the preservation of traditional Chinese music. To perform nan kuan music, which originated in Fukien province, the main musical instruments are the upper four kuan, consist of bamboo flageolet, balloon-guitar, two-string and three-string musical instruments, and the lower four kuan, which provide the accompaniment consisting of castanets, gongs and drums. The ages of the players range from eight to eighty. They can be seen playing together frequently in the wings of the temple, amid the fragrance of incense which is kept burning continuously.
Wan Mien, a traditional folk ritual designed to remove fine hair on the face and neck by using a thread, is a unique attraction during Lukang's folk art activities. In ancient China, a maiden was not permitted to "wan mien" until the eve of her wedding, which is known as the "face opening" day. First, the "face opener" applies a powder prepared specially in Hsinchu to reduce the gloss of the fine hair. Holding one end of the thread with her teeth, she grasps the other end by the left hand, and circles it twice with the fingers of her right hand. As the thread rolls across the face, the hairs are removed. With the advance of industrial civilization, however, the wan mien depilation technique is slowly dying out.
One of the traditional customs for children in celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival is wearing hsiang pao, or sachets, to ward off evil spirits. It takes Chang Chieng Chao-chi, 73, one and a half hours to complete one sachet. One of the few surviving specialists in the art, she explains that considerable care must be taken to see that the fingers do not stain the material in the manufacturing process.
The burning torches, loud sounds of drums and gongs and crowds milling around shatter the peace of Lukang's night as the gods are paraded through the streets. These night parades, known as "An Fang" are unique to the Lukang festival, since they are held in the daytime in other places. Palanquins, banners, weapons and musical instruments are carried to the accompaniment of firecrackers. The last program in the An Fang festivity is sending away the evil spirits, conducted by a priest on the seashore, with the blessing of the gods.
Shih Tan, an old master in the art of story telling, is an unforgettable character among the old people of Lukang. Before the era of television, he provided the main enjoyment and relaxation after the evening meal. Shih was able to bring to life such famous novels as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Pilgrimage to the West, the Investiture of the Gods, All Men Are Brothers and Shaolin Temple. The stories extolling the virtues of loyalty, filial piety, fidelity and justice deeply moved the simple and honest people of Lukang. As mass communication developed, however, the profession of story telling declined. But at the second national folk arts festival, Shih's mouth opened again after 14 years of silence. Under the time-worn eaves of Lungshan Temple, four ancient style lanterns were lit to reveal an audience consisting of people of all ages. In spite of his advanced years, Shih narrated the story of the "Chia Ching Emperor Travelling to Taiwan" with great feeling. While the older spectators were taken back to a former age, the younger ones were mostly uncomprehending. But the time-honored dignified ceremony had lost none of its appeal.
Left: Demonstration of lantern painting techniques at the Lungshan Temple, and above, an exhibition of furniture and bamboo utensils.
Clockwise from above right: Paper pasting technique, making Chuangyuan cake, tinfoil utensils and molding pastry figurines. The figures and animals ingeniously pasted together from small pieces of paper are used as children's toys or to "send off" the dead. Fashioning pastry figurines is an ancient folk art. Pinching small pieces of colorful glutinous rice cakes from his wooden box, Shih Ching-chiang is able to mold all kinds of life-like forms such as monkey, pig, and monk, characters in the Pilgrimage to the West and a variety of other flowers, birds, animals and fruit. His skills caused his young spectators to marvel. To make Chuangyuan cakes, one must first grind rice to powder, place it in a wooden mold and add sugar. After steaming for one minute, the cakes are ready for sale. It is said that this type of cake was used by Ching dynasty Emperors to reward scholars who achieved the best grades in the imperial examinations.