This year’s New Taipei City Hakka Yimin Culture Festival, which opens tomorrow at the No. 2 Stadium in Banciao District (板橋), New Taipei City (新北市), will celebrate Hakka culture and religious traditions with a series of rituals, activities and displays, including works by renowned Hakka artist Liu Hsing-chin (劉興欽).
Yimin (“righteous people,” 義民) is an honorific title the Qing Dynasty bestowed upon Hakka people who fought bravely against invaders to protect China in the late 1780s. The civil uprising resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people in Hsinchu. They were buried at the Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple (新竹新埔義民廟) in Hsinchu County, which is one of the oldest and largest Yimin temples in Taiwan.
Every year, the Hakka community holds ceremonies in memory of the martyred ancestors on the 20th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
The three-day festival, organized by the Hakka Affairs Department of the New Taipei City Government, is one of several Yimin ceremonies held across Taiwan to commemorate the martyrs who were honored as deities by the Qianlong (乾隆) Emperor of China.
The festival is scheduled to begin tomorrow at 6am with a procession of the Yimin gods at the Sinpu-Fangliao Yimin Temple and is planned to pass through Sansia (三峽), Yingge (鶯歌) and Shulin (樹林). After arriving at the stadium, the procession is set to be followed by an opening ceremony and a traditional Hakka operatic work to express gratitude to the deities.
Sunday is expected to see nearly 4,000 members of the Hakka community join the fengfan (奉飯) ceremony, which involves presenting rice to one’s ancestors.
Participants are scheduled to gather at 8am at the square outside the New Taipei City Government building and march to the festival site, carrying offerings for the Yimin deities on their shoulders.
The festival will treat visitors with a variety of exhibitions, activities and workshops focusing on different themes that range from Hakka tea appreciation and floriculture to recycled art.
An exhibition featuring artworks by cartoonist Liu Hsing-chin is one of the main features at this year’s festival. Born in Hsinchu County in 1934, Liu has become a household name in Taiwan for creating several endearing comic series such as Brother A-san and Great Auntie (阿三哥與大嬸婆) that reflect life in rural Taiwan in the 1960s.
Works on display include a large-scale painting that shows how people from the artist’s home village traveled over mountains to the ceremony to honor the Yimin deities in Sinpu when he was 12 years old.
“Our village was in a remote mountainous area. It took one day and one night to reach Sinpu on foot. Grown-ups needed to kill and prepare the pork and lamb two days before the march, so you can imagine the smell was not that nice when we got there,” the 78-year-old Liu said. “Everyone in the village, whether old, young, rich or poor, joined the parade. We played drums and gongs. We had shoes to wear too, for this special occasion.”
In the old days, the 14 Hakka communities across Taiwan took turns to make the annual pilgrimage to the Yimin temple, Liu said.
“Each village would pick one little boy to spend one week at the temple helping out with the ceremonies,” he added. “I was one of those boys.”
The festival also features a series of traditional Hakka dance and music performances as well as 100 booths presenting Hakka food, crafts, arts and other products.