For many people, it may be the most unbelievable way to celebrate a holiday, but for the residents of Taitung, the Bombing of Master Handan (炸寒單) — throwing firecrackers at men representing the mythical figure Handan — has become the signature event in celebrating the Lantern Festival.
On Saturday night, thousands of people attending a Lantern Festival concert turned around and cheered as the Handan procession entered Taitung’s main square.
They quickly gathered in a circle around a bamboo sedan and the procession of Handan men, who were wearing only red shorts and had their faces and heads covered with towels, goggles and scarves.
Photo: Loa Iok-sin, Taipei Times
“Please stay back. You might get hurt by firecrackers,” shouted staffers from Hsuanwu Temple (玄武堂), one of the local temples that organize the Bombing Master Handan events.
After a simple religious ritual, the first man acting as Handan got on the sedan and staffers carried him around the square to mark the boundaries for the event.
Suddenly, people from the temple began throwing firecrackers at the human Handan as he continued to be paraded in a circle.
Overwhelmed by the noise and smoke from the firecrackers, some onlookers ran away, while those who came prepared — wearing gloves, goggles, hats, jackets and earplugs — stayed on to enjoy the spectacle. Still, from time to time, even those with protective wear had to move to get a breath of fresh air or dodge tiny pieces of firecrackers.
After a few laps around the square, the “bombing” was halted to give the man acting as Handan a break, get some air and a drink of water before continuing.
Each bombing session lasted for about 5 to 10 minutes, and when each was finished, the human Handan raised his hands to show that he was alright, and the crowd greeted him with a round of applause.
“I’m absolutely fine. It was a very exhilarating experience, [I] just felt some tiny pricks of pain [when the firecrackers] hit parts of my body,” Chen Tse-ying (陳澤瑩), one of the men who acted as Master Handan, said after finishing his rounds. “I volunteered for it, because I think it’s important to carry on the tradition.”
Chao Shih-wei (趙世偉), the public relations director for Hsuanwu Temple who has acted as Master Handan several times, shared his experience.
“When you’re up there getting ‘bombed,’ it hurts at first, but after a while, you just feel numb,” he said. “What’s really scary is not the firecrackers, it’s the smoke. The smoke is so thick that sometimes you can’t breathe at all.”
To prevent being choked by the smoke, Chao said it was important to keep the mouth and nose covered.
“Also, don’t forget the earplugs — a man lost his hearing in one ear because he dropped one of his earplugs by accident during the bombing and didn’t realize it,” Chao added.
“I don’t know if the practice [Bombing Master Handan] originated in Taitung, but as far as I know, we are the only place that carries on the tradition,” Lee Chien-chih (李建智), independent Taitung County Councilor and head of Hsuanwu Temple, told the Taipei Times in an interview.
“Legend has it that Master Handan was a general named Zhao Gongming (趙公明) during the Shang Dynasty, who was made the leader of the five gods of wealth after his death,” Lee said.
“During his lifetime, he was known to be afraid of the cold, and his heartbeat would accelerate when it was cold. This is why people throw firecrackers at him during religious processions, to keep him warm in the hope that if he is happy, he will bless the people,” he said.
Bombing Master Handan used to be only part of a divine parade to celebrate the Lantern Festival, but it became so popular that for the past 60 years, it has been held separately and has become a signature event of the festival in Taitung, he said.
Lee also talked about the origin of the name Handan. He said that the most common way to write the two-character word is handan, with han (寒) meaning “cold” and dan (單) meaning “single,” but his research shows that the second character should be written as dan (丹) meaning “heart” — in short, “one who often feels cold at heart,” Lee said.
However, since most people — including government authorities promoting the event — have chosen the former, “we just go along with it,” he said.
Huang Chao-liang (黃朝亮), a native of Taitung and a filmmaker who is planning to make a movie about bombing Handan, cited four reasons why people take on the role of Handan.
Some want Master Handan to grant them fortune or wealth, while others do it as a way to expiate their guilt or to return a favor that Master Handan has granted them,” Huang said.
“The tradition was brought by people who migrated from the west to Taitung generations ago, but it has disappeared in the western part of the country, while we have kept it alive here,” he said.
The tradition has also attracted foreign residents, such as Mark Jackson from South Africa who has lived in Taiwan for 10 years and Till Di Luniere from Germany who acted as Master Handan in a bombing session reserved for foreigners yesterday.
Both said they were excited to be able to take part in an important local cultural tradition.
A total of 120 foreign exchange student from more than 30 countries served as firecracker throwers during the special session.
“I was very nervous at the beginning, I was so afraid that I might burn my hair or hurt the guy [acting as Master Handan],” said Stephanie Hand, an exchange student from the US. “But after it’s over, I feel so excited now.”
Vinicius Azevedo from Brazil said he felt neither afraid nor nervous.
“It’s just fun, exciting, and I am very happy,” he said.
TRICKED INTO MOVING: Local governments in China do not offer any help, and Taiwanese there must compete with Chinese in an unfamiliar setting, a researcher said Beijing’s incentives for Taiwanese businesspeople to invest in China are only intended to lure them across the Taiwan Strait, after which they receive no real support, an expert said on Sunday. Over the past few years, Beijing has been offering a number of incentives that “benefit Taiwanese in name, while benefiting China in reality,” a cross-strait affairs expert said on condition of anonymity. Strategies such as the “31 incentives” are intended to lure Taiwanese talent, capital and technology to help address China’s economic issues while also furthering its “united front” efforts, they said. Local governments in China do not offer much practical
Police have detained a Taoyuan couple suspected of over the past two months colluding with human trafficking rings and employment scammers in Southeast Asia to send nearly 100 Taiwanese jobseekers to Cambodia. At a media briefing in Taipei yesterday, the Criminal Investigation Bureau presented items seized from the couple, including alleged victims’ passports, forged COVID-19 vaccination records, mobile phones, bank documents, checks and cash. The man, surnamed Tsai (蔡), and his girlfriend, surnamed Tsan (詹), were taken into custody last month, after police at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport stopped four jobseekers from boarding a flight to Phnom Penh, said Dustin Lee (李泱輯),
PUBLIC POLL: More than half believe Chinese drills would make Taiwanese less willing to unify with China, while 36 percent said an invasion was highly unlikely Half of Taiwanese support independence, according to the results of a poll released yesterday by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, which also found that President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) support rating fell by 7 percentage points. Fifty percent of respondents supported independence, 25.7 percent supported maintaining the “status quo” and 11.8 percent supported unification, while 12.1 percent had no opinion, did not know or refused to answer, the foundation said. Support for independence is the new mainstream opinion, regardless of which party is in power, foundation chairman Michael You (游盈隆) said. Insinuations that Taiwan wants to maintain the “status quo” are a fabrication that
BILINGUAL PLAN: The 17 educators were recruited under a program that seeks to empower Taiwanese, the envoy to the Philippines said The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines on Thursday hosted a send-off event for the first group of English-language teachers from the country who were recruited for a Ministry of Education-initiated program to advance bilingual education in Taiwan. The 14 teachers and three teaching assistants are part of the Taiwan Foreign English Teacher Program, which aims to help find English-language instructors for Taiwan’s public elementary and junior-high schools, the office said. Seventy-seven teachers and 11 teaching assistants from the Philippines have been hired to teach in Taiwan in the coming school year, office data showed. Among the first group is 57-year-old