Cheung Chau Bun Festival - Hong Kong A La Carte
9 May 2019
Today starts one of Hong Kong’s most popular events: Cheung Chau Bun Festival. From 9 to 13 may, the Taoist god Pak Tai will be praised in order to appease the island’s ghosts.
The origin of this celebration dates back to the plague epidemics that took place on Cheung Chau Island in 1777 and towards the end of the 19th century. In order to stop the outbreak, the villagers decided to carry Pai Tak around the village’s streets. A lot of people died during the epidemics and locals believe that their frustrated and famished ghosts are still wandering around. It is therefore important to distract, feed and appease them during the festival so that they leave people alone.
Many rituals such as dances and Chinese operas are organised and on the last day, a large parade takes place in the streets where children are dressed up in order to recreate past and actual events. Pai Tak is of course part of the march.
On the last night, the flagship event takes place: the buns’ race. In order to please the ghosts, the villagers will feed them with 9000 buns, dispatched over three 14-meter high pyramids (each are built by a different Chiu Chow’s organisation, an ethnic group which originated from south of China where most villagers are from).
At midnight, after ensuring the ghosts are happily fed, a priest will start the final race. In an attempt to bring happiness and prosperity, climbers storm to the top of the pyramids in order to fetch as many buns as possible.
For security and hygiene reasons, a few changes have been introduced these past years. The buns have been replaced by plastic versions (shops are however still selling eatable ones, filled with lotus paste, for the pleasure of all) and the pyramids, originally constructed with bamboo sticks, are now built with structures made of steel (a pyramid fell in 1978 injuring 100 people and led to the suspension of the race for 27 years).
This year’s festival ends on 13 may and this will be the perfect day to immerse yourself in one of Hong Kong’s local traditions. Be cautious though, you will not be alone, long queues usually form at the ferry in Central as the 2.45km² island’s population goes from 30,000 to 100,000 people!