Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 7 News List

Cities prepare to raise lanterns

Taipei is traditionally the center of attention during the lantern festival, but this year Kaohsiung and Taichung are joining the action

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

The lantern festival has long been Taipei's most internationally visible tourism event and a symbol of the city's preeminent position as the country's capital and cultural nerve center. However, Taiwan's other major cities, especially Kaohsiung, have long taken exception to Taipei's hogging of the spotlight and hope to use this year's lantern festival to boost their images.

Previously, the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication organized the huge lantern festival that centered on Taipei's Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Then in 1997, Taipei also played host to a rival lantern festival focused on City Hall and organized by the Taipei City Government under then mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). After he became president, Chen further decentralized the festival by declaring last May that Kaohsiung would host the national lantern festival for the first time.

According to Ho Te-fu (何得福) of Kaohsiung's Department of Information, the lantern festival is a chance for the city to show a new face and boost its recent achievements.

Taipei City Government will again take over Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall plaza and the surrounding area for its lantern festival, with another zodiac animal theme -- this year a laser snake created using digital technology.

Kaohsiung and Taichung have decided to shift away from a zodiac theme and are using the event to promote their image as cultured and economically vibrant cities.

Taichung has chosen a theme of the "five elements," a concept fundamental to Chinese cosmology. The five elements are associated with five mythical beasts, which in turn relate to the five directions -- north, south, east, west and center. Funding for the 12m by 12m theme lantern was raised through donations, another element in the community spirit that the event intends to evoke.

Kaohsiung's theme lantern is called "the giant turtle springs from the ocean to fly like a dragon" and is, according to Ho, a symbol of Kaohsiung's ambition to be recognized as one of Taiwan's foremost cities, rather than the neglected cousin of Taipei. The city's maritime culture is also celebrated with the extension of the lantern festival to the harbor, where activities will begin on Feb. 3.The official start of the lantern festival, however, is on Feb. 7, when Chen is scheduled to participate in the lighting of the main theme lantern.

The lantern festival will also be used to showcase a number of recently completed cultural facilities and urban renewal projects.

According to Chen Li-hua (陳麗華) of Triple Intercultural Multinational, LTD (台灣美學), the organizer of the Taipei City Government's lantern festival, the city's festival will focus on Taipei's role as a window to the international community. Events this year will be concentrated around City Hall and will include several international performance groups during afternoons. There will also be an emphasis on the city's international community, including choir concerts from the city's main religious congregations during the lighting of the lantern.

The events in each city will mostly be a celebration of the traditional Chinese holiday, but authorities also hope to use the occasion to boost social issues and environmentalism and promote their images as modern, sophisticated cities.

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