Light up the Dark, ‘Dance-off’ the Evils

The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance on Wun Sha Street (Photo by Ha)

About a hundred years ago, on a late summer’s night, the Hakka villagers of Tai Hang gathered to discuss solutions for recent outbreaks of severe plagues and fierce storms. Those infected died tragically while their families starved to death due to the lack of livestock, which was damaged by the typhoon. In the midst of restless anxiety, the wisest man of the village came striding through the crowds with an idea. He announced that the only way to end those tragedies was to perform a dance mimicking the dragon to drive off evil spirits. Therefore, the villagers created a dragon from straw and danced beneath it so that from a distance, the dance ritual appeared to be a real dragon writhing and roaming in the village. Miraculously, after the dragon dance was performed, epidemics and natural disasters vanished from Tai Hang.

The amazing story of the Tai Hang people has been handed down from generation to generation. To this day, the inherited Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has developed into an annual extravaganza celebrated by both local residents and visitors from outside the village during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In the year of 2017, again on a typical summer’s night with damp air and murky skies, an unusually massive crowd thronged the streets of Tai Hang. A straw dragon agilely passed through the mass of people, swaying to the lead drummer’s beat. This particular straw dragon used in the performance weighs up to 6 tons while its length is nearly 70 meters. The chanting performers supported the weighty head and long body of the dragon while the surrounding crowd shouted with excitement. Each time the firecrackers on the dragon’s body were set off, the darkness of the night was set ablaze by the energy of people, which lit up the streets of Tai Hang.

A female drummer leading the marching band before the dragon dance (Photo by Ha)

“I’ve been performing the Fire Dragon Dance for three years, and the turnout this year is incomparably massive. I’m really excited to dance with others for a common goal: the good fortune for everyone,” said Brian Chung, a performer of the dragon dance. Chung said he will continue to participate in the annual performance until old age or illness prevents him from doing so.

Nicholas, a visitor from England noted that he was impressed by the diverse sounds and colors of the event. “This is my second [time at the] Fire Dragon Dance Festival following the one three years ago when I was studying in university. I’m really moved by the organisers and performers that no matter where they’re from or what they do for living, together they send their best wishes to the community.” He added that he appreciated the story behind the dragon dance, which celebrated the value of unity by fighting a common foe through joining forces of the people.

Fire Dragon Dance performance (Photo by Ha)

Starting as a ritual to protect villagers against evil spirits, then developing into a wide-scale event welcoming visitors across different walks of life and cultures, the Fire Dragon Dance of Tai Hang attracts large crowds every year since its inscription onto China’s third list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011. The reason crowds showed up on a humid summer’s night at Tai Hang today would be the same as that of the dancing Tai Hang villagers back in the 19th century: to jointly wish for good fortune and bade farewell to the problems in life.


Writer: Ha

Copy-editor: Mary

Editor: Jasmine

Online team: Elgar

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