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Inside scoop: behind the scenes of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

Fancy a taste of old Hong Kong? Aside from visiting the old districts and trying out traditional snacks, you can’t miss the traditional festive celebrations in the city. One of these is the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance parade that takes place during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s a fascinating sight: festooned with over 10,000 burning incense sticks and held by 300 people, the giant fire dragon is paraded through the streets of Tai Hang. Don’t miss the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, located in a revitalised historic building on School Street. Go and experience for yourself the charm of this National Intangible Cultural Heritage! 

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Sixty years of dedication

Chan Tak-fai, the late commander-in-chief and organiser of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, was officially honoured as ‘bearer of the fire dragon dance’ on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Affectionately known as Fai Gor, or ‘Brother Fai’, within the community, he had performed in the fire dance for over 60 years and was one of very few individuals in Hong Kong who were familiar with the construction of the dragon, the dance and the ceremonies conducted during the event.

The fascinating fire dragon

It's believed that the fire dragon dance was created in the 19th century as a way for Tai Hang residents to combat a plague that had consumed what was then a small village. “Things in Tai Hang have been smooth sailing since, but we’ve made something out of this tradition, and we want it to keep going,” Fai Gor once shared during an interview with us.

Worship Ceremonies

Image by Chan Tin-kuen

A sense of community plays a big part in the preservation of this historic event. The area was originally inhabited by the Hakka people, whom Fai Gor — who was Hakka himself — described as having a strong community spirit. And despite changes in the neighbourhood, that bond between neighbours remains.

“Once people move to Tai Hang and become part of the community, we introduce the fire dragon dance to them and tell them how they can participate,” he said. The event also welcomes participation from former neighbourhood dwellers.

Children holding lantern

A unique community

Meanwhile, KC Chan has been involved with the fire dragon dance for over a decade. With his family residing in Tai Hang, he first participated in the parade as an 8-year-old and later took part in the dance. He now acts as a photographer at the event. Although he doesn’t live in the neighbourhood, he says the festival attracts youngsters — like himself — because of its distinct position as a historically remarkable event. “Tai Hang has evolved into an area with a lot of unique qualities,” observes Chan. “That has inspired people to move to the area, and for them to band together for this annual experience.”

“As I continued to help out, I got to know a group of great people. They’re doing the same thing as me, and everyone has the same goal,” he adds. 

The continuation of these events depends on whether young people want to carry on what’s been done by previous generations.

Chan Tin-kuen, Hong Kong historian and author

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance parade

Image by Chan Tin-kuen

Whether people want to participate also depends on the awareness that surrounds the event — something that historian and author Chan Tin-kuen says is integral to their survival. The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance is a Hong Hong event recognised on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, along with the Cheung Chau Bun Festival; Birthday of Tin Hau; the Hungry Ghost Festival organised by the Chiu Chow community; and Tai O’s dragon boat water parade. Their recognition on a national level has inspired more participation, says Chan Tin-kuen.

Ultimately, the affinity among Tai Hang folks is what continues to drive the event. “A community is only that when you have residents,” says KC Chan. “Most people love their homes. And if your home has something really special, with over a hundred years of history, then I think people would want to preserve it.”


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