Although the Hakka community in Miaoli County celebrated Lantern Festival with a traditional “dragon bombing” event a week ago, the county government has now triggered controversy with an announcement that it plans to ban schoolchildren from participating in dragon dance troupes.
“Bomb the dragon’s head, Bomb the dragon’s head” Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) shouted, as members of the Miaoli City cleaning squad threw firecrackers at dancing dragons on Sunday. The “Night of Dragon Bombing” was organized by the Miaoli City government.
“Anyone who hits the dragon on the head, come up on stage to receive a cash award,” Liu added.
A total of 12 dragon dance troupes guided their dragons through a sea of firecrackers thrown directly at them, in front of tens of thousands of onlookers that night.
In addition, all the dragons were handmade.
“Bombing the dragon” is listed by the Hakka Affairs Council as one of the nation’s “12 Hakka festivities,” and is a unique way to celebrate Lantern Festival.
“Dragon bombing is unique to the Hakka people of Miaoli County,” Chu Chun-yi (朱君毅), chairman of the Dragon Bombing Development Association and manager of three dragon dance troupes, told the Taipei Times during a telephone interview.
“It is a tradition that has been passed down by our ancestors — no one is sure when it started, whether it developed locally, or our ancestors brought it over when they moved from China centuries ago,” he added.
The dragon is traditionally considered a symbol of good fortune, while firecrackers are believed to drive away evil spirits. Hence, locals believe that throwing firecrackers at dancing dragons can bring prosperity for the year, Chu said.
Most dragon dance troupes are sponsored by local communities and businesses, and members are usually community residents — especially young people — or employees and their families, he said.
“Residents of participating communities collaborate to make the dragons, and the dragons’ eyes are painted only on the ninth day of the first lunar month, which is a symbolic gesture marking the completion of the dragon, because people believe the dragons are empowered once the eyes have been painted,” Chu said.
After the ritual, dragon dance troupes dance in front of businesses or give private dances, hoping to receive red envelopes stuffed with cash in return.
Following the official dragon bombing event, the dragons are to be burned in front of temples, symbolizing the sacred animal’s return to heaven, along with the smoke, Chu said.
However, many people are -worried that the tradition could face a rocky future following a decision by Miaoli County government to ban elementary, junior high, and senior high school students from joining in lion or dragon dance troupes.
“Yes, it is our policy to discourage schoolchildren from joining lion or dragon dance troupes, because some of these troupes have connections to criminal organizations, and we do not want young people to become gangsters or use drugs when they join these troupes,” Miaoli County Government Secretary--General Yeh Chih-hang (葉志航) said.
Miaoli County police chief Tseng Yi-chiung (曾義瓊) said that at the moment, they are only discouraging students from joining troupes: “The ban is not legally binding, but we do notify schools and parents, urging them to keep an eye on their kids.”