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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Taiwan marks Lunar New Year end by lobbing firecrackers at fortune god

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Donning only red shorts and protective eyewear, four men hoist a palanquin bearing a god of fortune on their shoulders and walk through a bombardment of firecrackers aimed right at them.

The unusual display is a Taiwanese celebration known as “The Bombing of Master Han Dan”, which has been held in northwestern Miaoli county’s Zhunan township for more than a century.

Chen Chien-long, a ritual committee leader at the temple organising the festival, said the practice of hurling firecrackers at a god — and its very exposed human carriers — started after a plague.

“Master Han Dan descended from the heavens and told the people, ‘You have to bomb the plague with firecrackers’. The firecrackers also brought warmth to Master Han Dan, who was afraid of the cold weather,” Chen said.

Since Master Han Dan is a god of fortune, the explosives bonanza is also thought to usher in good tidings.

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“The more we bomb him with firecrackers, the more prosperous we will be. The explosion of firecrackers brings good fortune,” said Chen.

The celebration is typically held on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year and this year it fell on a Saturday night, drawing hundreds of spectators who stood a safe distance away.

They covered their ears to shield themselves from the loud explosions of the firecrackers, while trying to film on their smartphones.

Event officials dressed in yellow — complete with head, face, and glove coverings — were tasked with igniting the firecrackers and flinging them at the procession as it passed.

At the centre of the chaos were the true believers — four men carrying a palanquin which holds Master Han Dan adorned with some green fronds.

The four carriers also wielded a broom to sweep away evil spirits.

To prepare to be one of the palanquin carriers, Chao Jen-hao said he went vegetarian and stayed away from his vices for three days.

“Carrying the palanquin for me is to show my dedication,” said Chao, insisting that “there is no pain” when the explosions combust near his tattooed skin.

“As long as my heart is with Master Han Dan, everything will be all right,” said the 28-year-old.

But 63-year-old Lien Chong-liang — who has done this for 15 years — said walking in the procession is like “being in a gun battle”.

“I have no fear,” he said, adding, “There will be some flesh wounds of course — that’s normal. It’s not a big deal for me.”

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