At Every Lantern Festival, villagers in Nanping, Dongan, Beixing and Zhongning in Dongshi Town, Taichung County all contend with each other to make “new man rice cakes” and compete with each other to see who can make the largest ones. The rice cakes are made with glutinous rice by the Hakka people. “New man” represents the family addition of newborn males. “New man rice cakes” are glutinous rice cakes which celebrate a newborn male as an addition to the family. Dongshi people not only make “new man rice cakes” at every Lantern Festival but also relish the idea of taking part in the “rice cake competition”.
The “rice cake competition” has a long history and it mainly represents a sincere expression of thanks to the local god of the land for blessing the family with the arrival of a newborn male. It is customary for participators to pay a membership fee which goes towards the prize for the winner. If a member has a newborn male or a newly married person in their home, they need to make red rice cakes for all the members to share. For those who make the biggest and heaviest rice cakes, public prizes are given to them as a form of praise. Other members will present gifts of money as a prize to them according to their fellowship. As the winners can win quite a lot of public and personal prizes and can make a name for themselves, participators are making bigger and bigger rice cakes for fear of someone else winning first place.
The origins of new man rice cakes were clearly the hope of sharing happiness with local relatives and friends who held the same beliefs. The timing of the Lantern Festival was selected because it followed the happiness of the Spring Festival and also because people didn’t officially have to work and had relatively more time to make rice cakes at home. Everybody with an additional male in the family since the previous year’s Lantern Festival could express their thanks and their sincerity to share happiness with others in front of the local god of the land. Later on, as people wanted to make a name for themselves, the rice cakes began to get bigger and bigger and it has evolved today into an official competition and has become a special custom of the Lantern Festival.
· Paper ceremony
The origins of the paper ceremony stem from the tradition of ancestors “respecting and treasuring paper”. Nowadays this tradition has gradually died out and only in Meinong Town in the Liudui region in the south, can you still witness this antiquated ceremony. In this town, there is a holy site committee that still performs the paper ceremony. The Meinong Paper Respecting Pavilion is also listed as a national third class historic site.
Meilong’s Holy Site Committee answers to the Guangshan Temple. Every year, the ninth of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar is the birthday of God and it is the one day of the year to welcome the holy and hold the paper ceremony. In the early morning, under the command of the master, everyone takes their positions to the sound of ringing bells and beating drums. The person with the “welcoming the holy” plaque leads the team, solemnly leaving the Guangshan Temple, followed by 2 to 30 people. They are followed by a van loaded with the ash from burnt paper collected from the Paper Respecting Pavilion before Chinese New Year. The team would walk to the river side of the Meinong River and scatter the ashes into the river after sacrificing the River God and the Dragon Kings of the Ocean, as an indication of the Dragon Kings of the Ocean taking civilization back to heaven. Then the task would be completed. In recent years, although the river is seriously polluted, the Meilong Holy Site Committee still scatter the ashes every year but now they bury the ashes beside the river instead. The purpose of welcoming the holy is still achieved and the river isn’t polluted either. Obviously, this ancient custom has also received modern cleansing.