Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance Makes a Spectacular Comeback this Mid-Autumn Festival

With thousands of residents and visitors flooding the grid-like Wun Sha Street on Thursday night, Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance finally roars back to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival after four years of pandemic-spurred hiatus.

Thousands of people gather at Tai Hang to watch the Fire Dragon Dance on Thursday, September 28, 2023. Photo Credit: Scarlett Wang

Fascinating Performance Lights up Full-Moon Nights

Set to occur for three consecutive nights from September 28 to September 30, the dance showcases over 300 performers as they parade a magnificent 67-meter-long dragon through the picturesque streets in fire, smoke, and festive fury.

Amidst the resonating gongs and rhythmic drums, the dragon, crafted from rope, rattan, and straw, and adorned with 12,000 illuminated incense sticks, vibrantly traverses the streets and narrow pathways of the locality. Most notably, the dragon’s head alone weighed more than 48kg.

The Fire Dragon Dance team is parading on Wun Sha Street on Thursday, September 28, 2023. Video credit: Scarlett Wang

This year, the Fire Dragon provides various formations, including “Knitting Dragon Troupe”, “The Fire Dragon Twisting the Two Poles”, “The Full Moon is with Us” and “Fire Dragon Crossing Bridges”. New captivating elements are also added, such as a remarkable showcase by a new generation of dragon performers – the little fire dragons team, and the inclusion of an LED giant flower plaque featuring a dragon for taking photos.

Crowds of eager spectators were attracted and brought to the narrow alleys, squeezing tight despite the hot weather. A diverse array of people gathered – diligent police officers, children in traditional costumes, and enthusiastic tourists who traveled from distant lands.

Lora Derichs, a 21-year-old student from Germany, excitedly went on a video call with her family to share this one-of-a-kind moment.

“I can’t imagine this,” said Derichs, who didn’t know much about the Mid-Autumn tradition and saw such a performance for the first time. “I’m shocked and excited, and so are my parents.”

Many residents regard the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance as an ideal place for family reunions and enjoyment. “I watched it before the pandemic,” said Ruby Lee,  a 35-year-old analyst who went to Wun Sha Street with her husband and son right after work. “Finally, a chance for my kid to see this traditional performance in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and together, with us.”

After a round of the fire dragon parade completed, the dragon dancers ignited the incense sticks on the fire dragon and distributed them to the public and tourists, conveying the spread of peace and happiness.

The Fire Dragon moves through the streets and brings laughter to the people. Photo Credit: Scarlett Wang

Cultural Heritage with a 143-year Old Tradition

Dating back to 1880, the Fire Dragon Dance originated as a response to the challenges posed by a devastating plague that had afflicted the farming and fishing communities of Tai Hang. A village elder’s dream instructed the residents to perform a Fire Dragon Dance with firecrackers during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which ultimately saved them from diseases.

In commemoration of the incident, the Tai Hang residents have continued to uphold the tradition of performing the Fire Dragon Dance for three consecutive nights during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which gradually evolved into one of Hong Kong’s most prominent cultural celebrations.

With unique characteristics and cultural significance, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance was successfully included in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.

Steven Liang, a 40-year-old manager from mainland China, carried his daughter as they observed the dance performance from the side of the street. “I’m delighted that I could expose my children to such a revered ritual during our trip to Hong Kong,” he said.

A valuable addition to the festivities is the recently inaugurated Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre, which is located in a Grade 3 Historic Building situated at 12 School Street. The primary objectives of the centre are to safeguard and transmit the heritage of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, preserve the local legacy of Hakka culture, and actively involve the community in the conservation of its rich heritage.

The historic building has been revitalized as the Fire Dragon Heritage Centre in Tai Hang. Photo Credit: Scarlett Wang

“The reason why the Fire Dragon Cultural Centre was established is to pass on the cultural tradition of Fire Dragon Dance from generation to generation,” Lam Siu-lo, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Heritage Centre and a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong SAR, told China News Service.

In addition to the reignited flames of Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, the “Night Vibes Hong Kong” Campaign held by the government also offers a splendid assortment of both traditional and trendy nighttime festivities during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

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