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Walk Into the Old Streets of Tainan: Celebrating the birthday of the god of the Sun and offering up sacrifices of 9 pigs and 16 sheep

Lian Heng stated in Yayan, “March 19th is said to be the birthday of the sun. However, it is actually the date Emperor Chongzhen of Ming dynasty died.” After the fall of the Ming dynasty, people identified Emperor Chongzhen as the Sun Lord as a way to remember him. They began to refer the day he died as the day of Sun Lord’s birthday. The number of pastry offerings (9 pigs and 16 goats) have hidden meanings as well. The number 9 is pronounced as jiou in Chinese, which is a homophone for “long life.” The word “pig” in Chinese is pronounced jhu, which is also the pronunciation of the emperor’s last name. Therefore, the offering of 9 pigs represents “long live the Jhu family.” Furthermore, “goat” in Chinese is a homophone for “sun,” so the 16 goats came to represent the 16 emperors of the Ming dynasty and the true bloodline of the royal family. In ancient traditions, when cows, goats, and pigs are sacrificed it is considered a grand offering. When just goats and pigs are sacrificed, it is considered a lesser offering. To prevent the ruling Manchu people from getting suspicious, the old subjects of the Ming dynasty came up with the 9 pigs and 16 goats offering to remember the previous dynasty. Jhu can also mean “red,” so the little bit of red on the back of animal pastries makes the intention of the festival remembering the Jhu royal family of the Ming dynasty even clearer.

The 9 pigs and 16 goats offerings not only have deep cultural significance, their designs are also lively and fun. In the seminar, professor He Pei-fu also pointed out a contemporary perspective on the pastry offerings. Today, the political sentiment is no longer about defeating the Qing dynasty to restore the Ming dynasty, and the sadness caused by the tragedy of Emperor Chongzhen’s death has faded. When we worked to maintain traditional folk religions, it wouldn’t hurt to think about how we can bring innovation to tradition and culture. We can make the pastries more lively and delicious, and lead more people to get in touch with the event and understand the spirit of the festival.

Besides snacks, flowers, fruits, and pastry offerings made for the Sun Lord’s birthday, ginger, sugar, salt, and Adzuki beans, all of which represent abundant food, are also often used to show prosperity and veneration. Dry tea leaves are also offered, representing the fact that the sun brings aridness. As of now, Kaigi Jade Emperor Temple, Tian Tan Gong Temple, Kaiji Sanguan Temple, and Shueisian Temple Market retain the tradition of Sun Lord worshiping. Visitors may come on Apr. 23 (Lunar Calendar Mar. 19) to experience the festival.