Tai Hang Fire Dragon Cancelled Admist Covid-19 Pandemic

Mid-autumn celebrations in Tai Hang were held at a smaller scale last week in light of uncertainties regarding Covid-19, after the dancing performance of Tai Hang Fire Dragon was cancelled in early September. The event, typically involving 300 participants, was originally scheduled to be held from September 30 to October 2.

Last year’s Tai Hang Fire Dragon performance.
Video from the Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association.

Instead of a large celebration, a group of 20 people took part in the traditional worship at Lin Fa Kung and carried a shortened version of the dragon around the district under heavy rain. According to Chan Tak Fai, organizer and commander-in-chief of the Fire Dragon Event, this year’s events and prayers served as formalities rather than the traditional celebration.

“We want to hold the performance but there is nothing we can do about the situation. We weren’t even able to obtain some of the materials needed to make the dragon as factories in China closed due to the virus,” said Chan. “It is a shame since many locals were looking forward to the celebrations.”

The Tai Hang Fire Dragon emerged in 1880 when villagers built fire dragons and lit firecrackers to ward off a plague in the area. The event has since taken place annually to commemorate the incident, featuring a 32 section, 200 feet long dragon that is composed of string, incense and straw. It was added to the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2011. This year’s cancellation marks the third time in history where the performance has not taken place, following the Japanese occupation in World War II and the 1967 riots.

The head of the dragon from past years on display at the Association’s headquarters. Photo by Areta Lee.

Anne Chan, a local university student, expressed disappointment over the cancellation of the main event. “I was looking forward to it because I was planning to join with my friends,” said Chan. “However, I understand the decision since the organisers cannot legally proceed with it due to the social distancing measures.”

Others have also taken to social media to express their feelings towards the cancellation announcement on the Facebook page of the Tai Hang Residents’ Welfare Association. While most expressed sympathy, some questioned the decision. One user said that the original purpose of fire dragon dance is to drive away disease, and that it is needed now more than ever due to Covid-19.

In light of the cancellation and the pandemic situation, the Association uploaded an animated dance and blessing in lieu of the usual celebrations. Yahoo Hong Kong also collaborated with local stores to celebrate the event virtually. An AR version of the fire dragon dance was developed, and can be accessed by scanning a QR code on posters spread around Tai Hang. 

The poster on the door of a restaurant in Tai Hang. It was designed by three local artists to promote both the Fire Dragon dance and shops in the district. Photo by Areta Lee

Chan Tak Fai hopes to hold a performance before the end of the year if the virus situation allows, similar to when they performed after SARS ended in 2003 to promote tourism. He believes the Fire Dragon dance has already become an integral part of Hong Kong culture, and is determined to continue the event in the future while passing on the artistry to the next generation.

The 2021 Fire Dragon event is scheduled to take place from September 20 – 22 next year. 

(Featured image “File:Tai Hang Fire Dragon (173119905).jpeg” by M L Wong is marked with CC0 1.0)

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