Category Taiwan

Taiwan Part Seven: Here Comes the Bride

Engagements and wedding ceremonies are celebrated with time-honored traditions in Taiwan. Red is central to the wedding theme. It signifies love, joy and prosperity and is used in a variety of ways in Chinese wedding traditions. The bride’s wedding gown is often red, as are the wedding invitations, and wedding gift boxes or envelopes for cash gifts. Even the bride and groom’s homes are decorated in red on the wedding day. More recently, brides have been gravitating toward more western wedding dresses, and white instead of red, though this leaves traditionalists aghast as white is considered to be the color of death. Before her wedding celebration, the bride goes into seclusion with her closest friends. This custom gives the bride-to-be some time to mourn the loss of her friends and family. A month or so before the couple is married, the groom’s family carries wedding gifts in red baskets and boxes to the bride’s house. One of the baskets will contain ‘milk money’. Others will contain personal things for the bride, so that on her wedding day all of her personal belongings will be in the groom’s house. The bride takes the gifts to another room where they are sorted through. Three days before the wedding day, women from the bride’s family reciprocate, bearing gifts — including some ‘returns’– in red wrappings to the groom’s family. Wedding dates are carefully chosen according to astrological signs. It is also customary for couples to be married on the half-hour on their wedding day rather than at the top of the hour. In this way, the couple begins their new lives together on an ‘upswing’, while the hands of the clock are moving up, rather than down. On the morning of his wedding day, the groom is symbolically dressed by his parents. The groom has to arrive at the home of the bride’s parents at a very specific time (most often women will remain in their family’s home until they marry) to claim the bride. If he is late, it is considered to be a most unlucky omen for the marriage. When the groom and his friends arrive at the corner of the street that the bride’s parents’ home is located, they light firecrackers to let everyone know that they are coming. Then they have a procession down the street, preceded by a statue of the Buddha. He brings gifts of cash, wrapped in red tissue, to give to his bride’s friends, in exchange for ‘letting her go’.






When the groom arrives, the whole family must pray before the altar together. After this, the bride must say goodbye to her parents, as she is leaving their home and will never live in it again. In some families, the wedding couple serves tea to both sets of parents while kneeling in front of them, which is a symbolic gesture of asking for permission. This was the case at the wedding I attended. Pictures are then taken with the wedding party and guests, hundreds of pictures. The bride is not supposed to smile at all during this time. Not during pictures, not at all. She’s not to smile again until after she is married. wedding

After they finish taking pictures, the bride is led back to the waiting car by the groom, again preceded by the Buddha. The Chinese use an umbrella in their weddings as a covering for the bridal couple. This ancient ritual was to honor and protect the bridal couple as they begin their new life together, similar to the way Jewish couples get married beneath a canopy. If this wedding had taken place one hundred years ago, or even if it were a more traditional wedding, instead of using a car, the bride would be carried to the wedding in a red sedan chair.



After the couple is in the car, the mother of the bride leaves the house with a bowl of water, which she tosses on the car, symbolizing (according to Tracy 伯母) “I have lost my daughter and now I have lost everything.” As the car departs, the bride tosses a fan out of the window, further symbolizing that she is leaving all of her troubles behind with her family, and then she is off to start a happy new life.


The wedding ceremony is usually attended only by the couples’ immediate families. Just after the ceremony and before the wedding reception, the bride who honors tradition will serve tea to her in-laws in a formal ceremony. The couple will usually go to a professional studio for wedding pictures before they proceed to their reception. The wedding reception is an elaborate, standing-room-only affair. A welcoming speech is usually performed by an MC who is hired for the occasion.

The speech is followed by a cake cutting ceremony. The traditional wedding cake is immense, with many layers. The layers symbolize a ladder that they couple will ‘climb to success’, so couples will cut the cake from the bottom and work their way up. The cutting of the cake is the only event of the reception. The bride and groom feed each other a piece of cake with arms entwined, trying not to destroy the bride’s elaborate makeup. A piece is then cut for each of the parents and for the grandparents, who are fed by the bride and groom holding the cake together. Sometimes a wedding toast is given and guests are invited to greet the newlyweds and their parents. Musical entertainment, which ranges from a simple keyboard player to a symphony or orchestra, accompanies the receiving line. It is customary for guests to shake hands again before leaving the reception.

At more elaborate Chinese weddings, a sit-down reception may feature a 9 or 10 course meal as well as musical entertainment. The courses just kept coming at the wedding I attended. I far surpassed the point of fullness EARLY in the meal, and had to keep eating to be polite. I felt very nearly ready to die by the time the meal was over. I have never in my life seen people pack it away the Taiwanese do at special occasion mealtimes–weddings, rotary luncheons/dinners, funerals…I am convinced they have an extra stomach or perhaps an extra dimension they ferret this food away to so they can pick at it later. Chinese brides often change outfits at least three times during the reception. That is a hell of a lot of outfit changes. I have a hard enough time picking out ONE outfit in the morning, I can’t imagine doing more than three elaborate costume changes in a day.

Teasing the bride is one of the major events of the wedding night. Everyone can take part in the activity except her parents-in-law and her married brothers. All kinds of tricks are played on the bride and groom, so much laughter can be heard in the bridal chamber. The custom is said to have begun because evil fox spirits like to play tricks on newly wedded couples. In order to prevent this from happening, it is necessary to gather a great number of people in the bridal chamber. A more likely and practical reason would be that in the past, the bride and bridegroom didn’t know each other because of the system of arranged marriage, and teasing the bride helped to dispel the shyness between the newly acquainted couple. Now for the couple, who arranges their own wedding, teasing the bride not only adds to the happy atmosphere of the wedding, but promotes friendship among the relatives as well. Teasing the bride usually goes as such: After the wedding feast, guests inform the groom that they would like to take a look at the bride. The groom opens the door and let the guests in. Before entering the room, everyone has to say something nice at the door, generally with four sentences. If the bridal chamber is too small, the program moves to the living room. After everyone is seated, the ‘bride holder’ (the old lady who helps the bride to deal with people, usually the go-between, not to be confused with a potholder) would help the bride carry sweet tea to everyone and introduce her to the guests at the same time. When the bride holds the tea to the main guest of the night, said guest would not receive it on purpose, and he/she tells the bride to pass it to the person next to him/her. Of course, the next person would play the same trick and the poor bride walks in circles around the room again and again with nobody listening to her. And this ‘tea -serving’ ceremony is the beginning of teasing the bride. Some people tell jokes (tending toward the risque to get the bride to blush); some make him/herself up as a clown; some start to dance, and some make fun of the couple. All of these are just to make the bride laugh. However, the bride must not show any facial expression. Meanwhile, she must work with the ‘bride holder’ in order to deflect the attention from everyone. At the end of the evening, they perform the ritual of the ‘Blessing Cup’. The guests would put money of an even denomination in red envelopes and place it in the cup to give the bride. Teasing the bride is to bless the bride. So no matter who you are, you can always show your ‘blessing’ to the couple. After the wedding was over, Tracy 伯母 said that if I wanted to dress in traditional chinese wedding clothes for my wedding, she would purchase them for myself and my husband. It was and is a nice gesture, but I don’t think it would be appropriate as I don’t have a personal connection to the tradition. They are lovely, though.

Taiwan Part Six: Double Ten Day

Although Taiwan was officially founded on January 1, 1912, the events on October 10, 1911 are considered to be the spark that brought down the Manchu dynasty and led to the establishment of the ROC. October 10 commemorates the Wuchang Uprising; the Chinese people were fed up with the Manchu court. When people in the Szechuan Province found out that their railway company–built by the Chinese, for the Chinese, with hard-earned Chinese money–had been sold to a foreign interests, they rioted. The government tried to suppress the rioters and restore order. However, an accidental bomb explosion on October 10 precipitated the revolt. Troops mutinied, and within a few days, 15 provinces had declared their independence from the ruling Manchus, causing their downfall. Traditionally, displays of nationalism are everywhere. Flags are hung. Parades put honor guards, dignitaries, celebrities and traditional dance and music on display. Spectacular fireworks light up the sky over the Tamsui River in Taipei. On 10-10-2000, I went with my host mother to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall to watch the performances. They also had a huge market set up with all manner of traditional Taiwanese crafts and foods. Aunt Tracy bought me a gorgeous silk fan, and I’m STILL trying to figure out how to hang it on the wall without damaging it.


double102 Drum Dance


The ‘Waist-Drum Formation’ is also known as ‘Waist-Drum Planting Songs’, which originated from a dance of the inhabitants of the northern Shensi Province. It was intended to celebrate the yearly harvest and Chinese New Year. Afterwards, it became a rain dance due to the frequent droughts in the Huang-Tu plateau. ‘Jump-Drum Formation’ is a dance originating from soldiers and people celebrating victory after a war along the coastal provinces of China. Both dances are accompanied by percussion instruments (gongs and drums) in order to create an atmosphere of excitement.

God of the Wind Procession godofthewind




In the past, processions have been in integral part of temple festivals and celebrations of Taiwan’s mainly agricultural society. With the advance of industry in Taiwan, the processions have become an important way to remember their cultural heritage. The Banchia Chao-Ho Association performed “Heavenly Generals and Northern-Style Music” which included six large effigy puppets: the four generals Hsiao, Chang, Liu, and Lian, along with ‘good eyesight’ and ‘good hearing’. The puppets led processions in an act called “Asking for General-Gods”. In addition to the procession, acrobatics and music are performed to help welcome the gods. These acrobatics include Chung-Chow stilts; said stilts originated in the Yellow Basin, where soldiers tied wooden sticks to their legs in order to walk through the marshes. According to legend, the Generals are in the service of the Gods, and their official duty is to expel ghosts and devils during the Gods’ inspection trip.

Hakka Songs and Dances hakka

The Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties are the main areas inhabited by Taiwan’s Hakka communities. A majority of Hakka communities spend their time growing tea trees in the mountains. During the (arguably boring) process of picking tea leaves, they created folk songs sung by two singers who respond to each other. In the song, they express their feelings regarding all matters in life (with the exception of perhaps their feelings about red staplers and gay marriage.)

Harvest Ceremony Celebration harvestceremony

The harvest ceremony is the most important celebration of the Ami tribe. During the slack season from July to August, Ami people hold a grand celebration to express their gratitude to the earth and their ancestors for the plentiful harvest of grain, rice, and bamboo shoots. Note the traditional costume, including the traditional electronic watch that has been passed down for generations by the ancestors.

Lanterns and Colored Hangings lanterns In traditional Chinese society, decorations of lanterns and colored hangings have been an inherent part of weddings and other celebrations. Red lanterns and red silk hangings symbolically create a joyful atmosphere. This dance was performed by the Lukang Art Troupe to symbolize the importance of said lanterns.

A Meeting of Lions from the North and South lions The lion dance tradition of the north and south of China are divided by the Yang-tze River. Magnificent mountains and hills spread out south of the river, and the southern lions are therefore magnificently decorated. The cold weather to the north of the river causes the northern lions to grow long manes, mostly vibrant reds and yellows. In “A Meeting of Lions from the North and South”, two groups of lion dancers demonstrate their virtuosity individually and then play and frolic with one another. The acrobatics performed while in these giant costumes, by what looked like mostly little kids were AMAZING.

Harmony eightimmortals The “Eight Immortals” Taiwanese opera and the “Handsome Monkey King Sun Wu-kong” Peking opera were combined into one performance for this celebration. The story premise is that the Immortals and the Monkey King are engaged in an argument on their way to Formosa to attend the Jade Emperor’s birthday celebration. The Jade Emperor sends his most revered grandmother and the Old Immortal of the South Pole to settle the dispute, turning the two sides from foe to friend. Awwww. I’d like an Old Immortal from the South Pole to accompany me and settle my road rage disputes. After the performances at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall were over, Aunt Tracy and I went back to her apartment, where we met up with Dave and watched the incredible fireworks show from their roof. I can only imagine what the celebration will be like when Taiwan is truly free.

Taiwan Part Five: Mid-Autumn Madness

In September some relative’s friend’s daughter Joyce showed up on my doorstep and announced that the next day, she would be taking Beth and I to Lukang for the weekend. While there, we were to visit Long-Shan (Dragon Mountain) Temple (龍山寺) for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Surprisingly enough, not a lot happened during said festival, some people ran down the streets and lit fireworks, and we ate mooncakes (delicious!). Legend has it that Chang’er swallowed an immortality elixir stolen from her husband, and she flew to the moon and became the goddess of the moon, who has lived in the palace on the moon ever since. During the festival, one looks to the moon in hopes of seeing her dancing. In the 17th century, Dutch occupiers used Lukang as a major harbor for exports; in 1784 it was designated as the Taiwan seaport for shipping links with the Hanchiang harbor at Chuanchou on the coast of mainland China, thereby becoming the gateway to central Taiwan. At that time the town was crowded with stores that covered their facing streets with awnings, creating the famous ‘no sky’ market areas. Early in the 1900’s the conservative residents refused to allow the passage of major railways and highways, and the harbor silted up as well, reducing Lukang from the second largest city in Taiwan to a small backwater town. It is the same conservatism that has allowed the preservation of the traditional face of Lukang.

So the next day, Beth, Joyce, Joyce’s friend ‘Sweetie’, and I hopped aboard a train for the long ride to Lukang. Our first stop was Long-Shan Temple. Built in the Ming Dynasty (around 1653), the Long-Shan Temple is the first Buddhist temple ever built in Taiwan. As Lukang was reaching the peak of its economical prosperity, along with plentiful donations from the local well-to-do citizens, the temple was relocated and rebuilt twice. Fanciful building blocks were purchased from afar, including colossal stones from France, and wood and bricks from Fu-Jou. In addition, distinguished artists and architects were hired from the Chinese mainland to help create what amounted to “Taiwan’s Forbidden City.” The style of construction is identical to that of the imperial palaces built in the Northern Sung Dynasty. There used to be altogether 99 doors and gates in and out of the temple, and each contained significant meaning (according to tradition) while they link all parts of the temple into one entity. As one of the three oldest temples in Taiwan, the Long-Shan Temple was once a subsidiary branch of the Kai-Yuan Temple of Chuan-Jou during the Ching Dynasty. The deities worshipped in the central sanctuary are Guan-Yin, the Lord of Land, the Goddess of Childbirth, and the Eighteen Saints. In the rear sanctuary are the Dragon God and God of Winds. During the time of Japanese occupation, the Gods in the central sanctuary were removed to the two wings, replaced by the Japanese-verion Buddha. In 1921, a fire blasted the rear sanctuary, destroying all the antique Buddhist statues except a bronze statue of Guan-Yin and one of the tiger-taming saints. In 1928, some master sculptors were employed from the mainland to restore the destroyed statues. The rear sanctuary was not fully restored until 1936. After the restoration of Taiwan in 1955, the Gods originally located in the central sanctuary were moved back to their proper location, the Japanese Buddha removed and placed in the rear sanctuary. The statue of Guan-Yin in place today (in addition to the Eighteen Saints) were made in 1962. At 300 years old, the Long-Shan Temple reflects the rise and fall of Lukang’s history. Now it is known worldwide for its architectural achievement, chronicling past glory in addition to the town’s cultural spirit.










While we were at the temple, we were able to make prints from their ancient temple plates. I made a print of a Chi’lin or Chinese Unicorn, which was originally used as a ladies’ underwear pattern. Talk about your fancy panties! I’d scan the print itself but I have no idea where the hell it is. I think it was one of the things that was missing of of the numerous boxes I shipped home (Every single box I shipped home was absolutely torn apart, things were taken, and I’m still mad about a few of them. Damn customs! Leave my painting books alone!) After we were done checking out the temple and finished shopping in the no-sky market, it was getting late, and it was time for dinner. Joyce took us to some sort of Taiwanese chicken chain. At that point, I was still quite unused to seeing the heads still on cooked animals, and had to take this picture. (Look at the very center of the menu if you’re confused.)


Actually, scratch that. I’m still not used to it. They were giving away DINOSAUR toys with their kids meal. And they had a giant rooster outside. If I were to say that didn’t scream ‘photo op’, you’d obviously be talking to an imposter Melissa.


After dinner, we went back to the home of our hosts, who promptly offered us some milk that had been sitting in the van all day. Beth had the all-too-pleasant experience of accidentally opening the bathroom door on the host father, who was standing there looking bewildered in his underwear. I was pretty sure I was going to die laughing when she came back upstairs with this horrified look on her face. The next day we went to the Lukang Folk Arts Museum. The European-style structure that houses this museum appears somewhat out of place amid the traditional buildings of Lukang. Originally the residence of a wealthy local landholder named Ku Hsienjung, it was later donated as a place to exhibit a large collection of artifacts, many of them articles of daily use in ancient times. I was fascinated to see the tiny shoes women wore when foot-binding was in fashion. The process of foot-binding itself is rather disgusting; if you’re interesting in reading about it and seeing how it actually shapes the foot, I suggest you look here. (Not for the weak of stomach!) We pretty much had the run of the place as no one else was visiting, and Joyce got bored so we went off to take more stupid pictures of ourselves. “Here’s a building. We must take pictures by it!” …ok!




I was glad to have visited Lukang when I did. Before we came through there again on the Taiwan tour in April, a huge earthquake had devastated the temple and it had to be held up by metal structures built around it. Though I’m sure Beth was appreciative of the lack of cheesecloth underwear the second time around.