Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun visited the Kouhu Qianshuizhuang Festival (口湖牽水車藏) of Yunlin County on July 9, accompanied by Director Shy Gwo-long (施國隆) of the Bureau of Cultural Heritage, Director Stacie Chen (陳璧君) of the county government's Cultural Affairs Bureau, and executives of the county's Wanshan temples (善爺廟).
Qianshuizhuang means "drawing spirits out of the water" and the one held in Kouhu Township is the largest ceremony of its kind in Taiwan, staged mostly at the Wanshan temples at Yunlin's Jinhu (金湖), Xialiao (下寮), and Hanliao (蚶寮) districts for 175 years. Most importantly, this is the only folk ceremony that ensued from a historical disaster in Taiwan.
The temples of this faith are named "Wanshan," a term taken from the Buddhist sutra verse "All Virtues and Merits Converge (萬善同歸)," in hopes of bringing peace and mercy to the dead.
The Minister first paid her respects to those who were drowned in a storm-triggered sea surge more than a century ago in the coastal Kouhu region, before partaking in a yoke-borne ritual, in which local residents carry a yoke balanced by two baskets full of offerings for ancestral worship at the temples.
She was also shown the rite of releasing water lanterns, which are intended to induce lost souls in the water to come forth and accept salvation, and the process of making shuizhuang (水車藏), which is a bamboo-and-paper cylindrical column that serves as a spiritual guide leading the deceased to the afterlife.
The flooding broke out during the imperial Qing dynasty in 1845, killing thousands of villagers. To free the spirits of those who drowned and commemorate the deceased, the survivors held a memorial that has evolved into this set of special rituals and customs today. This year, the memorial was held on July 9 and 10, with the Qianshuizhuang ritual staged at Jinhu.
The Yunlin County Government registered the ceremony as a part of the county's intangible cultural heritage in 2006. Two years later, the Council for Cultural Affairs, predecessor of the Ministry of Culture, recognized it as a significant folk custom.
The Ministry has financed the county government to preserve the custom for many years, including a project produced in 2019 by the county government to teach local school children about the ceremony.
Moreover, the Bureau of Cultural Heritage has recruited the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology to draft a dedicated conservation strategy while soliciting experts and scholars who have been involved in folk culture revival projects for advice and feedback.
Minister Cheng pointed out that Kouhu Qianshuizhuang Festival is a folk ceremony that has been preserved for over a century in Yunlin without losing its traditional spirit — commemorating ancestors while consoling the descendants of the deceased. This folk activity demonstrates the civic strength and social cohesion of the Taiwanese people while serving as a somber reminder to respect the environment and the power of nature.
Huang Wen-po (黃文博) and Lin Mao-hsien (林茂賢), two directors of the Ministry's folk culture revival projects, pointed out that many valuable folk customs have inadvertently died out due to the ever-evolving social and cultural practices of society. To stop the situation from worsening, Huang and Lin stressed the need to closely monitor the status of all folk customs and the predicaments that they face.
Lin Cheng-wei (林承緯), a professor with the Taipei National University of the Arts and member of a council under the Ministry that is in charge of reviewing cultural preservation plans, also invited Professor Kanebishi Kiyoshi of Japan's Tohoku Gakuin University to attend a workshop on folk rituals held this year on the sidelines of the Kouhu ceremony.
More information on the Kouhu Qianshuizhuang Festival can be found here.