God Comes Down to Earth 3

Chen Yu-Lin


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inkjet print
60 x 72 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.
In this photograph we see ‘Xing Ju Ye’(God of torture instruments) who carries instruments on his shoulders and stands in the front of the group to lead the troupe to worship. He is responsible for avoiding evil and making sure the worship groups are walking towards the temple on a safe track. Xing Ju Ye is the director of the troupe. He knocks the instruments against each other to create sounds while walking with special rhythms and patterns of footsteps. This role is usually held by a senior member of Ba-Jia-Jiang, the troupe of performers who play the part of the gods.
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