Wangye Worshipping Ceremony is a major cultural event of Donggang and Little Liuqiu. In Taiwan’s “Wangye” culture, which is a folk belief, this event is highly important. The believers follow ancient rules, carrying sedan chairs with deity statues to parade through the town and finally burn “celestial boats” to send the deities back to the Sky. If you happen to travel in Donggang or Little Liuqiu during the Wangye Worshipping Ceremony time, be sure to participate in this occasion and feel its charm.
During the 23rd year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty, growth in the Donggang area attracted a large number of migrants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in Fujian province. Feeling homesick and in fear of catching epidemic diseases in a new land, migrants who came to Taiwan from across the ocean had no choice but to rely on the blessings of Wen Wangye, the plague god who carried out inspections on behalf of heaven.
Starting in the Qing Dynasty, Donggang’s Wangye Welcoming Ceremony had its beginnings from a collaborating practice between local headsmen, Tangshan, rituals brought in by traveling priests, and local residents’ faith in the widely worshipped Wen Wangye. As a ritual passed down from many generations, the Wangye Worshipping Ceremony aims to invite Wangye to become a sworn brother of the locals and come to Donggang to prevent the spread of plagues and pray for peace and blessings on behalf of heaven.
Wangye Worshipping Ceremony runs for eight days and seven nights in a row and it is held once every three years, on the Years of the Bull, Dragon, Goat and Dog. The exact dates of the ceremony is only announced after consulting celestial gods. Usually the ceremony is held in September of the lunar calendar.
Each ceremony, the highest celestial power selects one out of the 36 celestial lords who took an oath of brotherhood to be the “leading lord” who patrols the human world on behalf of the Sky. After invitation and ceremony rites are held, the hosting priest writes down the respected name of the big lord on the patrol lamp and the patrol flag. The second, third, fourth and fifth lords all come along with the big lord. Zhong-jun Wangye and Wen Wangye, who are the local lords, also take part. In total, seven celestial sedan chairs will parade through the town.
The 13 procedures that take place in Wangye Worshipping Ceremony.
“Reception of Wangye” is held by Donglong Temple of Donggang, Sanlong Temple of Little Liuqiu, and Daitian Temple of Xizhou in Nanzhou. No matter the organizer, the content of the rite is roughly the same, including 13 sub-rites.
1.Duty Rotation of Headsman
The Wangye parade of Donglong Temple, Donggang is hosted by seven “Jiao Tou” sedan eams. The teams make a draw three days after the annual rite is over, just to decide which team will carry which sedan chair for which celestial lord in the next year. (The team leaders pick the draws.) Such is not practiced at Sanlong Temple of Little Liuqiu, however. Each team carries the sedan for the same lord annually.
The seven “Jiao Tou” teams of Donglong Temple
During the Reception of Wangye, members of the seven “Jiao Tou” teams carry sedans for the celestial lords. The members wear traditional colorful garments and “Lu Li” hats of the Qing Dynasty. Some children put on these clothes to join the rite, too.
Five celestial lords who patrol the human world are presented during the Reception of Wangye of Donglong Temple. Two more thousand-year-old deities, Zhongjun and Wen, also attend the event. In total, seven celestial lords sit on sedan chairs for a town parade, accompanied by their Wangye Boats. Each lord is escorted by a “Jiao Tou” team, represented by a specific color. Yellow: Great Wangye; pink: Second Wangye, black: Third Wangye; green: Fourth Wangye; greyish purple: Fifth Wangye; white: Zhongjun Wangye; blue: Wen Wangye.
2.Construction of the Wangye boat
Construction of Wangye Boats, two years prior to the Reception of Wangye.
3.Enshrining Zhongjunfu (the Heavenly Vanguard Troop)
“Arrival of Zhongjun Wangye” indicates the start of the preparation of the ceremonies of the celestial gods. Two years ahead of the Reception of Wangye, Wangye Boats are built. The believers ask Zongjin Wangye to stay on the site, so as to oversee the construction of Wangye Boats.
4.Jinbiao (submitting prayers to God)
The blessing ceremony held at Donglong Temple retains a crucial rite of the Qing Dynasty, “Jin Biao (presenting letters).” It is held in lunar June of the Year of the Reception of Wangye. “Jin Biao” means that, in front of a “celestial desk,” the chief secretary and deputy secretaries of the town’s temple kneel down on behalf of the locals, sending a celestial letter to invite the thousand-year-old Daitian Shunshou Wangye of Tianhe Temple to purify the place and chase away plague when the rite is held.
5.Preparations at Daitianfu
The residence of Daitian Shunshou Wangye during patrol in the human world is called Daitian Hall. The hall is built three days ahead of the Reception of Wangye. Two Daitian Halls are installed, respectively within the main halls of Donglong and Sanlong Temples. Silk banners which say “Daitian Shunshou” are hung high up. Only the temple clerks responsible for this part of the rite may enter the site, not any other unrelated people.
6.Qing Wang (inviting Wangye)
“Qing Wang (inviting Wangye)” marks the official start of the Reception of Wangye. Since the thousand-year-old Daitian Shunshou Wangye arrives and departs on a boat, all ceremonies are held at the shores. Sedan teams, street parade teams, etc. all gather up there. The leaders of “Jiao Tou” then make a draw to learn the arrival time of each celestial god. Upon their arrivals, firecrackers are set off and gongs and drums are beaten, as a way to welcome the lords.
“General’s flag”: the flag of the Great Qiansui
On the day of “Water Invitation,” after confirming which Wangye it is, the name of the Wangye is written to the “general’s flag.” The flag of Daitian Shunshou Wangye is set in the very back of the long parade team, after the celestial sedan. Upon seeing the tall “general’s flag,” one can be sure that the sedan belongs to the Great Qiansui.
Little Liuqiu is known for its unique Wangye Reception rites. On the day of the event, 50 fishing boats carrying celestial sedans gather up at Dafu Fishery Port and Baisha Tourist port. Then, they sail around the island to ask for safety along the area’s coasts and ports, in addition to waiting for the arrival of Daitian Shunshou Wangye.
A celestial parade is held to manifest the power of Daitian Shunshou Wangye, as well as to expel evil and anything that’s unclean. When the Wangye of Sanlong Temple goes out for a patrol, believers kneel down by the roads to get his blessings. During the parade, it is said that dead people who feel wronged during their lifetime can ask for justice from Wangye as long as a sign that says “receiving complaints” is held.
Enjoying country/prefecture food
Each household along the parade route would prepare soft drinks and snacks for members of the sedan teams, to quench their thirst and keep them from getting hungry. But the food must not be taken home, as a way to respect to Wangye. What a unique folk practice of Little Liuqiu this is!
Appealing for Justice
During the parade, some people would stop the sedan which carries Wangye to appeal for justice. Wangye would stop by the road to handle the case right away.
8.Walking over Fire
After “Wangye Invitation,” Daitian Shunshou Wanye patrols the town first before going to Daitian Hall. Before entering the hall, the celestial lords must “pass the fire” first. Wood is stacked and burned in five positions, and the sedans carrying Wangye must pass the fire, as a way to purge. Because there are five Wangye in total, the fire is called “the fire of five lords.” After the sacred fire turns wood into charcoal, the charcoal is flattened and covered with salt and rice. A chief folk priest invokes blessings from gods for the sedan teams and believers. Then, the sedan teams carry the statues of the five celestial lords to pass the charcoal piles, which are still warm, and send the statues into the hall.
Vegetarian feasts are held to worship Wangye during the Reception. Since the celestial lords arrive, two feasts are held daily, one in the morning and the other at night. This is carried out until the gods return to the sky, to show people’s respect and trust to Daitian Shunshou Wangye.
10.Wangye Boat Ceremony
The afternoon before sending celestial lords back to the sky, “Sailing of Wangye Boats” is held. Its goal is to catch evil spirits of diseases and disasters, especially plague, along the way, and take them away when Reception of Wangye is over. As Wangye Boats sail through the town, people thank Daitian Shunshou Wangye and his guards for patrolling and protecting the town with sacrifices and incense. Some households also prepare paper dolls which represent themselves. They ask folk priests to move their own bad luck to the dolls which are then taken away by the celestial gods during Sailing of Wangye Boats.
11.Moving Wangye boat out for Inspection Procession
During the Reception of Wangye, Daitian Shunshou Wangye patrols in the town to catch spirits of plague. At the Wanye Boat ceremony held on the night before Wangye returns to the sky, an aggressive rite called “suppressing spirits of plague” is held. This is to make sure that all evil spirits are kept away from the town no matter they are fierce or not. Through the rite, folk priests get these fierce spirits to Wanye Boats, so that the spirits return to the sky with the celestial lords, making the town safe again. This is the ultimate goal of the Reception of Wangye.
The night before sending the celestial gods back, in Daitian Hall, a full-course feast is held for them to enjoy and express gratitude.
13.Sending off Wangye
The next day, in the early morning, the temple secretaries send the lords to their sedans, and go to the shores to see them off with Wangye Boats. When the boats arrive by the seas, the seven Jiao Tou sedan teams and members of Donglong Temple use several bags of worship paper to make the boats look tall and magnificent. When everything is set, a waterway is inaugurated. Representatives of the Big Wangye then express gratitude to the believers. When the right time comes, anchors are removed and cannons are fired. The boats are burnt and the celestial lords travel back to the sky.
When the boats are being burnt, members of the rite ask the sedan carriers to fold up their parasols and “Lu Li” belts through a broadcast. No drumming or making noises is allowed. As soon as the deities have left, everything must be quiet. In the next three days, no sounds of firecrackers, drums, bells, or folk theatre shows should be heard. For one, the lords might think that people want them back when hearing the sounds. For another, the spirits of plague might also return, following the sounds.
“Supplementation” refers to making sure that Wangye enjoys all three meals of a day while returning to the Celestial Court to make a report of the human world. Through this rite, people also hope to get blessings and a bountiful life for the next three years.
Lanterns of 36 Provinces
The Lanterns of 36 Provinces are hung on both sides of a stage dedicated to Wangye during the Reception of Wangye. These lanterns indicate that Wangye’s power is all over Taiwan.
2021 Wangye Worshipping Ceremony
If you do get the chance to visit Donggang during the ceremony period, you will be able to appreciate the respect that locals have for the plague god and the vitality of their culture. A truly memorable experience unlike anything else.