Light Up the Night

The Lantern Festival puts Taiwan on an international stage

By: Jamie Wetherbe

Each year since 1990, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau has worked to make the Taiwan Lantern Festival an international event and this year was no exception.

The festival coincides with the Chinese New Year and is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month (the time of the first full moon of the New Year). This year’s festivities took place from Feb. 12-26, and while events were held throughout the country, the main events took place at the Historic Park in Anping Harbor in the ancient capital of Tainan.

To boost the popular Chinese folk festival, locals and visitors alike could check out all-things lantern, including about 30 lantern floats, the 700 entries from the national lantern-making contest, religious lanterns, those created out of recycled material and others made by prisoners. Travelers could also wander the “sea of lanterns” on the roads around the harbor and the “wishing lantern” area where hundreds of orange lanterns were strung up near the water’s edge. So that kids could join in the festivities, small hand lantern were passed out free of charge.

But all eyes were on the theme lantern this year focused on the Dog, the Chinese zodiacal animal for 2006 dubbed “Pan Hu Re-creates the Heavens” (Pan Hu is a divine hound of Chinese mythology). The lantern stood more than 70 feet, weighing in at about 20 tons.

The lantern included two adult dogs made of stainless steel and their pup, fashioned by traditional lantern-making techniques. The lantern rotated as it put on a computerized sound-and-light display using 45,000 white lamps and colored LEDs while fireworks exploded in the night sky. In addition, a specially composed score that integrated traditional Chinese music and Taiwan folk tunes played in the background.

Clients could also sample local dishes in a Tainan snack street beside Anyi Park and check out entertainment from Taiwan and overseas. Adding another layer of international culture to the festival, dance groups and music troupes performed, including those from the Chinese Culture University, the Taipei Hwa Kang Arts School, Ju Percussion Group, Ten Drum Art Percussion Group and Naruwan Dance Troupe of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, along with five Yosakoi Soran Street dance groups from Japan and a traditional dance group from Malaysia.

Clients seeking more of a thrill could drive about an hour outside of Tainan, where locals celebrate the festival with the Yanshui fireworks display Taiwan’s version of the running of the bulls. Locals don helmets and protective gear and get in the line of fire of Beehive Rockets to feel the rush of the pyrotechnics whizzing by. It seems that each year clothes are singed and a few suffer burns, but this doesn’t deter participants.

After being staged twice in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan, the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival will be moved a bit to the north in 2007. The location of the festival grounds will be in Taibao City, Chiayi County, close to where the county-government seat is located.


Taiwan Tourism Bureau