September Pagoda-burning in Tieban
“Burning the pagoda” is an Eastern Fujian Mid-Autumn Festival custom that has been passed on for hundreds of years, originating in Fuzhou, China.
Today the only place in Taiwan where it still preserved is Tieban village. The village continues to follow the burning the pagoda custom every year during Mid-Autumn Festival. In the past all the villages of Matsu had this custom. The pagodas were one to three meters in height and made from broken tiles mainly. The taller pagodas were made using bricks for one quarter of the height and the rest was broken tiles. A hole was left at the top of the pagoda in which fuel was dropped. The pagodas were burned during Mid-Autumn Festival, symbolizing replacing the old with the new and happiness. The fuel would be wood, bamboo and grain husks. Colophony powder would be used as an accelerant and salt would be sometimes added to produce a firework effect, creating a spectacular sight.
The burning of the pagoda custom
The burning of the pagoda custom is still followed every year in Tieban community, the aim being to allow younger people to understand that in the old days when materials were scarce coffin boards and toilet boards could not be burned for fuel. When these items were unwanted they would be burned in a pagoda during Mid-Autumn Festival to express gratitude and respect, symbolically saying goodbye to the old and sending off hardship. The unwanted things that used to be burned in times gone by are no longer burned but people face pressure in modern life and the opportunity to write their fears on a piece of paper, a “cleansing card,” and burn it in the pagoda, symbolically sending it far away, gives local people the courage to face the future.
A competition is held, the winner being the pagoda that burns red hot. The losers are ones that do not generate enough heat and collapse. The winners get a flag, prize money and prizes. It is said that Tieban’s pagoda burning festival originated in the late Yuan Dynasty when the people burned a pagoda during Mid-Autumn Festival at the start of a rebellion intended to drive out the Mongols, gradually develop into a custom that symbolized the burning of inauspicious things and removing the old in preparation for the new.
Tieban Queen of Heaven (Tianhou) Temple
The Tieban Queen of Heaven Temple is said to have been built by a great pirate seeking the blessings of the gods during the Jiaqing reign (1796-1820). It was repaired in 1868, and was renovated in 1919, 1949, 1979, and 1984. It is an eastern Fujian-style structure with fire walls and an interior of China fir. The main gate originally had a wooden wall, but it was changed to brick to avoid deterioration caused by weathering.