Chasing the dragon on the streets of Hong Kong
Performed for well over 100 years in the Tai Hang area of Causeway Bay, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has grown from a village ritual into one of the most popular events of Hong Kong’s mid-autumn festival celebrations.
It is hard to imagine when you visit the area now, but Tai Hang was once no more than a small Hakka village. Situated much closer to the waterfront than present day Tai Hang, the village was home to farmers and fishermen which, it is said, suffered first a typhoon and then a plague in the autumn of 1880. When further misfortune arrived in the form of a livestock-eating python which entered the village during the typhoon clean-up, it was decided that the only way to put an end to the continuing tragedy, was for the villagers to perform a fire dance over the three nights of the upcoming mid-autumn festival in the hope that the evil which had befallen the village would be banished. And what do you know … it worked.
As a result of this early success, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has been performed in Tai Hang almost every year since as part of the mid-autumn festivities. The 70 metre-long straw dragon is stuck with thousands of incense sticks and paraded through Tai Hang’s crisscross of small streets to the sound of banging drums, crashing symbols and the delight of cheering crowds. The event was even added to China’s third national list of intangible cultural heritage by the Chinese Ministry of Culture in 2011, cementing its place as one of the most important cultural events of the Hong Kong festival calendar.
The event begins on the 14th night of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar in September or early October, with the culmination of each night’s performance taking place on Wun Sha Street during the second half of the three hour dance. Before the dance begins, the incense is lit and stuck onto the dragon’s head, body and tail. The drums will already be banging and the cymbals crashing a racket as the smaller streets fill with smoke, while small fires burn on the ground from which the performers will light their handfuls of sticks, eyes streaming, to attach to the dragon. Once the incense is in place and the dragon is glowing a fiery orange, the rhythm will pick up, the dragon will be hoisted, and with a suitable level of rowdiness reached, the dance will begin its journey round the village.
The ensuing 90 minutes is a mayhem of guessing and second guessing, of mad scrambles down dark alleyways towards the sound of drums and doubling back when they change direction unannounced. It’s a kind of Benny Hill-style chase around Tai Hang in the quest to get a decent view of the approaching dragon. The body may be bobbing along at the end of one street, but by the time you head a few streets parallel, it may already have turned around and be heading back in the direction from where you just came. Try heading it off a crossroads further up and it might be heading to the top of the hill on Wun Sha Street to the waiting crowds there, while if you decide to play it safe and wait until the dragon arrives at your carefully chosen vantage point, you may be waiting forty minutes only for the dance to pass by just the once. All of which makes it even more exciting when you turn the corner to find the smoke, drums and dancing dragon heading right for you. If you are in Hong Kong during mid-autumn festival, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance is a celebration not to be missed.
When is it on and how do I get there?
The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance takes place for three days over the Chinese mid-autumn festival on mid-autumn festival night itself and the two days either side. The festivities usually begin around 7:30 in the evening and last for three hours until around 10:30. The dates for the upcoming Fire Dragon Dances are as follows:
|2013||18, 19, 20 September|
|2014||7, 8, 9 September|
|2015||26, 27, 28 September|
|2016||14, 15, 16 September|
|2017||3, 4, 5 October|
|2018||23, 24, 25 September|
|2019||12, 13, 14 September|
|2020||30 September, 1, 2 October|
The event takes place in Tai Hang, in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. Usually a quiet neighbourhood of crisscrossing streets, for three smoky days a year it becomes the noisy epicenter of Hong Kong’s mid-autumn festival celebrations. To get there, take the MTR to Tin Hau MTR Station, Exit B. Cross King’s Road and head down Tung Lo Wan Road opposite the MTR exit. From there, just follow the crowds and the sound of the drums.
Check out the location on Google Maps.