God Comes Down to Earth 1

Chen Yu-Lin


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inkjet print
50 x 60 cm
Chen Yu-Lin’s family has lived in the same house in Yanshuei, one of Taiwan’s oldest cities, and once an important trading port, for three generations. His father is one of the custodians at the local temple, and preserving this aspect of folk culture and religious practice is immensely important to him. Yanshuei is home to an extraordinary annual event, classified as the third largest folk festival in the world — and the fifth most dangerous. The Beehive Fireworks Festival commemorates the god Guan Di’s success in vanquishing a cholera epidemic in the nineteenth century. According to legend, on the eve of the lantern festival in 1885, and in a state of despair over the plague that had ravished the town for two decades, the people begged Guan Di to deliver them. A local shaman summoned the god, who demanded to be greeted by fireworks. The god and his guide, General Zhou Cang (who together with Guan Di sometimes appears as a door god in Daoist temples), led a procession of the faithful through Yanshuei, letting off firecrackers in every district of the city until daybreak, ridding the town of pestilence. Chen’s dramatic black and white series of photographs, God Comes Down to Earth (2013), reveals the excitement of the Beehive Festival and other Taiwanese religious processions and rituals. Performers with elaborate, fearsome masks and head-dresses are surrounded by billowing smoke and shredded paper fragments from thousands of fireworks. This photograph shows a ten-year-old boy who is playing the role of the god for the first time; he stares quietly into the distance.
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