In the afternoon of the 20th day of the tenth month in lunar calendar, which falls on November 17 in 2008, local residents in Taipei City’s Wanhua District burned incense and set up sacrificial offerings in front of their houses, waiting for the beginning of one of the largest annual religious celebrations of Taipei.
When the clock struck five, people started to light up firecrackers which served as a signal tune to remind all the festival participants dressed up like celestial soldiers and Infernal Generals that the party has officially begun!
It is time for the annual birthday celebration of the resident god of Wanhua’s Qingshan Temple, "Qingshan Wang," which literary means Lord of the Green Mountain.
The nearly 150-year-old Qingshan Temple was built in 1856 and completed in 1859.
It has long been one of most prominent temples in Wanhua, which used to be called "Mengjia," the oldest area of Taipei and a place that once enjoyed fame as the third largest port in Taiwan in the 19th century.
In its more than one and a half century history, the Qingshan Temple had undergone several redecorations. Its front hall was remodeled in 1938 and the stone pillars and sculptured stone in the front hall were built from remains of the Japanese-era Taiwan Provincial Shinto Temple at Yuanshan.
The stone carvings and wood columns, beams, windows and granite doors were crafted in Japanese style, product of a renovation carried out in the Japanese occupation period.
In 1985, the Qingshan Temple was designated as Taipei City's official grade three historic site.
The Poem from the Tomb
The resident deity of the temple, "Qingshan Wang," was originally a general named Zhang Kun from China’s Three Kingdoms Era. He was sent by his lord Sun Quan to what is nowadays Fujian Province in the southeast coast of China.
Due to his wise and benevolent rule as the head of the area, people in Fujian built a tomb to express gratitude after his death and even worshipped him as a deity.
Zhang is later called "Qingshan Wang," or Lord of the Green Mountain because, a hundred years later in the Song Dynasty, a local official in Fujian surnamed Cui went to pay respect at Zhang Kun's grave.
Just at the time when Cui knelt down in-front of Zhang's grave, the tomb slanted open to one side and a poem appeared.
After reading the poem, Cui found out that Zhang requested to move his tomb to the top of Qingshan, or Green Mountain at today’s Quanzhou City.
Following the request, the original Qingshan Temple was promptly built on the mountain top and the deity became a protector of the whole Quanzhou City.
A statue of Lord of the Green Mountain was later brought to Taiwan when ancient settlers from Fujian moved to the Mengjia area in the year 1854 during the Ching Dynasty.
The location of Taipei’s Qingshan Temple had ended up on Guiyang Street because it is said that while his devotees were carrying Zhang’s statue through town in Mengjia, it became too heavy to move in one location, marking the place where he would like his temple built.
Now the Qingshan Temple houses Qingshan Wang and his wife, as well as a dozen of his right-hand men, Infernal Generals, and Chinese deity such as the Jade Emperor - the ultimate God figure in Chinese culture along with other Taoist and Buddhist deities.
“It is believed that ‘Qingshan Wang’ is like ‘Cheng Huang,’ the city god in Chinese mythology, who is responsible for the affairs of the city, protects its people from epidemics, and brings peace,” said Huang Ying-shih, chief executive of the Qingshan Temple.
However, unlike Cheng Huang who only has jurisdiction over a certain area, “Qingshan Wang” can always travel around from place to place to protect the safety and welfare of locals, especially from disease, said Huang.
It is said that when the Wanhua district was devastated by epidemic in the late 19th century, almost all people died except those who came to the temple to worship.
The tremendous power of protecting its people from the plague also showed at the time when Taiwan was caught in the storm of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) during 2002 to 2003.
In the hope of expelling the evil SARS spirit from Taiwan, Huang said that his temple held a pilgrimage in 2003, and not long after, the widespread respiratory disease had been put under control.
Because of his tremendous power, "Qingshan Wang" is widely popular among Wanhua residents, Huang said.
This is also why hundreds of Wanhua residents would flood the streets on the annual birthday celebration of the deity.
The pilgrimage on Qingshan Wang’s birthday on the 23rd day of the tenth month in the Lunar calendar was held on the 20th day of the tenth monthwhen statues of Zhang and other deities were carried out by their followers around the whole Wanhua district.
In the first two days of the pilgrimage, this was done from 5 to 9 p.m. and it was called the “night visit.” This was unprecedented since most pilgrimages in Taiwan are done during daytime.
The Infernal Generals led the pilgrimage. Eight deities dressed in elaborate costumes and with gaudily painted faces, they walk in groups called arrays. Following behind are Qingshan Wang’s followers.
At the center of the pilgrimage is the Lord himself, whose statue, dressed in an emperor’s yellow robe, rides on a glamorous sedan chair carried by followers.
The huge group would travel through the small streets around Wanhua to inspect and check the well-being of locals.
The group would also hand out so-called "illumination cakes" during the parade which are said to keep a person safe.
The annual celebration drew tens of thousands Wanhua residents and visitors from other parts of the island to witness the festival, including President Ma Ying-jeou himself, who grew up in the district.
The third day of Qingshan Wang’s night visit falls on the 22nd day of the tenth month in the lunar calendar, and the pilgrimage began at noon and concluded in the evening.
On the last day of the annual celebration, Qingshan Temple held a ritual to choose the person to be the “host” for next year’s event. This was done in the traditional way of tossing two moon-shaped bamboo blocks to seek Qingshan Wang’s choice from among the candidates.
Interestingly, at this 2007 ritual, an official from the French Institute in Taipei, Bruno Nguyen, was chosen by Qingshan Wang to be the host of the 2008’s pilgrimage, making him the first foreign “host” of the hundred-year-old tradition.
Muzha Man wrote:Damn. I had plans to see the festival this year and even gave myself a Google alert. Unfortunately the alert came last week and while I knew the festival was this week for some reason I though it was later in the week. Nope. Ends in an hour.
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