Yanshui Fireworks Festival


I stand in-front of a wall of 100,000 bottle rockets and all I can think of is: “Thank goodness my mother can’t see me now!"

One of the world’s most dangerous traditional festivals is not for the faint-hearted or sensitive of hearing!

Every year on the 14th and 15th day of Lunar New Year, the quiet little town of Yanshui becomes a beehive of rockets. Infamous for their screeching sound, bottle rockets are stacked in bundles in horizontal rows and vertical columns waiting to be lit. In the dark of the night, intoxicated locals drag around lines of exploding firecrackers which they throw over the sedan chair altar containing a statue of Guan Yu, colloquially referred to as Lord Guan, the famed general who many now worship as the Chinese God of War. Suddenly, a garage door opens and a wall of bottle rockets 10 meters tall and wide gets pulled out onto the street. People immediately secure their clothing for the next barrage.

The Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival originated in late 19th century the famous fishing port of Tainan while surrounding towns were being plagued with disease and sickness. To solve this problem, residents summoned the help of Guan Yu with a fireworks display, believing that letting off hundreds and thousands of rockets would scare away bad spirits, and cleanse the area. Historians have since proposed the idea that sulphur present in fireworks might have had antibacterial properties and certainly the noise would have caused any disease-ridden vermin to flee.

The history and traditions live on.

Every winter, thousands of believers, daring photographers, determined tourists, and experienced locals flock to this small town ready to face the wall and be "stung" to bring good fortune. During the day, there are dragon-dancing acrobats, heavily-modified ‘religious’ temple trucks, skimpily dressed strippers dancing to entertain the gods, chanting monks on street corners, and temples filled with believers lighting incense and burning ‘spirit’ money to ask for good fortune. All this supported by caravans of food stalls prepared to feed the crowds. Before evening comes, everyone excitedly prepares their armour — thick full-body coats and scooter helmets stapled with two feet of protective canvas.

The night begins outside the Yanshui Dazhong Temple — the atmosphere is electric as the first fireworks are ignited. Erupting into the air, their sparks immediately set off a whole beehive of rockets. No-one is safe: shrapnel and explosive rockets bounce off helmets, buildings, light posts, and come within inches of my face, leaving black imprints of gunpowder and ringing ears. The crowd turns into an  ocean of waves as the participants jump up and down, in a dance-like fashion, to dampen the impact. Suddenly, like a wildebeest river crossing, worshipers of Guan Yu begin to follow his moving statue throughout the city.

This two-day festival and specifically the second night’s magnificent firework extravaganza and its accompanying traditions are more exciting than any international celebration hands down, and just this past year attracted 600,000 participants.

Yanshui Beehive Firework Festival should be on everyone’s bucket list. Every year, I stand dodging flashing rockets and unite with the crowd as we join together in the hope of good fortune, a prosperous future and simply laugh at the absurdity and magnificence of it all.