Wed, Aug 30, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Bring out your dead

Toucheng’s Ghost Grappling Festival and Keelung’s Parade and Releasing the Water Lanterns are two must see events during Ghost Month

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing Reporter

Paper houses intended for the dead are paraded down to Keelung’s Wanghaisiang Bay.

Photo: Richard Saunders

It’s that time of year once again: incense burners and tables of offerings dot Taipei’s sidewalks, and the local temples are even more vibrant and busy than usual, while swimming pools and beaches aren’t quite as packed as they should be, considering the heat.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar (better known as Ghost Month) began on Tuesday of last week and for the following 29 days, countless Taiwanese must observe a whole host of taboos, in addition to making daily offerings to the “good brothers” (好兄弟): the ghosts of the dead who have been temporarily released from the underworld to wander among the living.

Although Ghost Month is observed by many throughout the world’s Chinese-speaking communities, it’s observed with special diligence in Taiwan. Over the centuries the country has attracted large numbers of fishermen, miners and other manual workers from China and elsewhere, many of whom died from disease, accident or other reason, far from their families. Without any kin to conduct the proper rites, they are restless and walk the earth during Ghost Month, causing mischief or trouble for the living if they are not appeased.


The port city of Keelung on the north coast has the most active and vivid program of Ghost Month observations due to a historic event that ensured it has more than its fair share of “good brothers.”

During the Qing Dynasty, an influxe of Fujianese immigrants arrived from China. Many settled in the Keelung area, and soon disagreements arose between the population over land, business and religious customs. This discord culminated in a major clash in 1851, which left many dead or injured. A truce was negotiated, and to appease the souls of the dead, representatives of 11 families involved agreed to take turns organizing rites and offerings to the dead: the first ritual took place in 1856, and the custom has continued to this day.

By far the most colorful of Keelung’s Ghost Month events is the Parade and Releasing of the Water Lanterns. Around dusk on the evening of the 11th day of the seventh lunar month — Sept. 4 this year — a procession of colorfully decorated floats parades around the center of Keelung.

Representatives of the 11 families walk through the streets behind large banners emblazoned with the Chinese character of their family name. Look out for the elaborate paper lanterns, in the shape of houses, carried aloft on palanquins by members of each clan’s procession. These, which lie at the heart of the evening’s festivities, are destined to become houses for the good brothers, and will be pushed out into the East China Sea and burned during the climax of the evening.

The procession winds down between 9pm and 10pm, and then everyone heads over to Wanghaisiang Bay (望海巷) at Badouzi (八斗子), nine kilometers east of Keelung Railway Station, to see the highlight of the night’s activities: the burning of the water lanterns. Shuttle buses are available from the city center. The burning ceremony starts at around 11pm, but try to arrive well before this, to snag a good spot. Aim for a spot as far to the right as possible, close to the boat ramp, where the lanterns will be set adrift.

The lantern burning ritual is over within 15 minutes, after which there’s a sudden exodus as everyone boards the fleet of shuttle buses back to Keelung. If heading back to Taipei, check the times of late trains and buses in advance with the tourist office at Keelung station, as extra transport may be added after midnight.

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