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Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with Century-old 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. Be fascinated by the giant fire dragon festooned with over 10,000 burning incense sticks and held by 300 people who parade through the streets in Tai Hang. Don’t miss Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, which will be opened in 2022 and is now located in a revitalised historic building on School Street. Go and experience for yourself the charm of this National Intangible Cultural Heritage. 

Performing the Fire Dance for 60 Years - a Labour of Love and a Sense of Duty

Just ask Chan Tak-fai, commander-in-chief and organiser of the fire dragon dance in Tai Hang — affectionately known as Fai Gor, or ‘Brother Fai’, within the community. Having been involved with the event since the 1960s, he holds the distinction of being the only individual who is familiar with the construction of the dragon, the dance, as well as the ceremonies conducted during the event. Fai Gor is officially honoured as ‘bearer of the fire dragon dance’ on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Worship Ceremonies

Photo Credit: Chan Tin-Kuen

As the story goes, 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.”

Worship Ceremonies

Photo Credit: 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 is Hakka himself — describes 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 says. The event also welcomes participation from former neighbourhood dwellers.

Young Photographer Captures Special Bond among Tai Hang Residents

Children holding lantern

Meanwhile, KC Chan has been involved with the fire dragon dance for over a decade. With his family residing in Tai Hang, he first began participating 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 that has a lot of unique qualities, and you're seeing this in Hong Kong less and less,” observes Chan. That has inspired people to move to the area, and for them to band together for this once-a-year experience, he says. 

“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.

Hong Kong historian and author Chan Tin-kuen.

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance parade

Photo Credit: Chan Tin-Kuen

Whether people want to participate also depends on the awareness that surrounds the event — something that Chan Tin-kuen says is integral to their survival. The Tai Hang fire dragon dance is one of ten Hong Kong events recognised under the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, along with the Cheung Chau Bun Festival; 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, explains Chan Tin-kuen.

Ultimately, the affinity among Tai Hang folks is what continues to drive the event — despite relentless modernisation. “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.”

 

70-year-old Historic Building Revitalised into Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre

The people in the Tai Hang community had not only shown their love of the fire dragon dance by their participation. Instead, they had set up the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, dedicating their efforts their efforts to preserving these over 100 years of tradition. The building, situated on School Street, used to house the Confucius free school for the underprivileged and was listed as a Grade 3 Historic Building in 2010. Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association has revitalised the building into Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre starting from 2019. Enter the G/F Exhibition Centre to get an immersive experience of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance and its craftmanship behind the scenes with the latest digital technologies and 3D projection. The 1/F houses a themed restaurant and the 2/F is a multi-functional space where workshops and talks are held.

[Remarks: Stay tuned for the official opening of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre.]

 

Mid-Autumn Festival Celebrations around the city

In addition to the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, there are different fun-filled activities each year to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival with friends and family. Stay tuned for details when Mid-Autumn approaches to enjoy a unique festive atmosphere in Hong Kong!

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