With the Zhongyuan Festival ending yesterday, we are halfway through Ghost Month, the time in which the gates of the underworld are said to open. What comes next? The Hsinchu Hakka Yimin Festival. It is an annual event in which Hakka honor and commemorate the valor and the sacrifice of hundreds of Hakka martyrs, or Yimin, who fought against invaders in two civil uprisings in Taiwan to protect their people and their land during the Qing Dynasty.
Today marks the opening of the Hsinchu Hakka Yimin Festival. It will begin with performers in Yimin costumes re-enacting battles between the Yimin and invaders and a Hakka carnival featuring creative ways of suspending meals on bamboo sticks at Hsinchu County’s Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple this morning. “The event tomorrow morning will also feature the ritual of welcoming returning Yimin pennants from subsidiary Yimin temples from across Taiwan to the main temple,” Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple Abbot Lin Pang-hsiung told the Taipei Times yesterday. This will be followed by a concert titled “A World of Hakka, an Evening of Yimin,” featuring Taiwanese band Mayday, held at the Hsinchu County Stadium this evening. Mayday will join the public to celebrate Hakka culture and pay homage to the Yimin. The Yimin pennants will, of course, be transferred to the stadium prior to the concert.
Although there are 41 subsidiary Yimin temples in Taiwan, there will only be 25 temples participating in the returning ritual today due to the inconvenience of traveling to the temple, a temple worker surnamed Chiu said yesterday. Aside from returning during the last weekend before the Yimin Festival, each temple also has its own annual returning date, said Lin.
The Yimin Festival is one of 12 major Hakka festivals designated by the Hakka Affairs Council and is also the most sacred religious and cultural event for Hakka people throughout Taiwan, attracting a total of 600,000 worshipers annually. Besides the opening events today, the flagship event of the one-month-long festival will be the three-day Yimin Festival ceremonies from the day after tomorrow (on the 18th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar) until next Wednesday.
The ceremonies will incorporate the traditional pudu ritual for transmigrating the souls of the dead and will be carried out according to traditional practices. First, bamboo sticks holding lanterns and flags will be raised, symbolizing the beginning of the pudu ritual, which will be followed by a series of events, including the consecration of objects, placing lanterns on water, water-lantern parades, traditional Yimin deity inspection tours with performances by folk art troupes in the 15 Hakka communities, worshiping the Jade Emperor, and a giant sacrificial pigs contest.
Built in 1788, the Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple (aka the Baojhong Temple) is the oldest and largest of all Yimin temples in Taiwan. It is also the center for Hakka worship in Hsinchu County. The Yimin Mound and the Auxiliary Yimin Mound, where the Yimin martyrs were buried, are located behind the temple.
There are 15 Hakka communities across Taiwan, and they all take turns making the annual pilgrimage to the Yimin temple. This year, it is the Hukou Hakka community’s turn. Hukou community chief Chang Fu-pu said it covers a wide area and has more than 60,000 members, which makes it the third largest of the 15 Hakka communities. On Aug. 5, Yimin pennants were transferred from the Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple to the five representative temples of the Hukou community — namely the Siansheng Temple in Hukou, the three Sanyuan temples in Hukou’s ancient district, Hukou’s Polowen area, and Yangmei’s Sanhu borough respectively, and the Fude Temple in Hukou’s Jhongsing area.