Birthday of Hung Shing Kung in Kau Sai
(The 13th day of the second lunar month)
     Kau Sai is a tiny fishing village on an island in the Port Shelter area. A simple line of houses and shops runs along its shore. Among its settlement is a temple dedicated to Hung Shing Kung, a deity worshipped by the floating population in Guangdong Province. Chinese popular religion gives almost every deity a ‘birthday’ and therefore creates a “birthday party” or festival for the deity. This practice also applies to Hung Shing Kung. (Ward, 1989, pp. 5-6)

     The birthday of Hung Shing Kung is held on the 13th day of the second lunar month, but the celebration begins one day earlier. As noted by Barbara Ward, on the 12th at eight o’clock, the curtain of the matshed theatre, built about two weeks before, is hung up, and an opera performance begins. The first short piece is always a ceremonial salute to the birthday god. Then at sunset a group of Daoist priests performs a ceremony to purify the village and to get rid of dangerous spirits. That ceremony is, in fact, a simplified jiao ceremony. (With regard to the jiao rituals, see the Bun Festival in Cheung Chau) During the ceremony, hundreds of candles, incense sticks, bundles of paper clothing and spirit money are burned for predatory ghosts residing on the land. A paper boat, about two feet in length, loaded with rice, tea leaves and paper goods is taken out to the sea and is set on fire for pleasing the ghosts in the water. Later, the priests read aloud a list of names of all people who have contributed to the festival. The list is also burned on the back of a paper horse, representing sending the list up to Heaven. Also burned are a bamboo and a paper image of Taai Si Wong (Ghost King) who was considered to have presided over the whole ceremony and to report fully to the Jade Emperor. A copy of the list is then posted on the temple wall. (Law & Ward, 1982, pp. 33-4)
Enlarged Image
Kau Sai (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
     In the very early morning of the 13th, the narrow paths of Kau Sai are already swarmed with worshippers who arrived at the island earlier by boats. Many worshippers organize themselves into a club, called fa p’aau woo (flowery rocket club literally), to pay their respect by performing Dancing Lions or Unicorns, and offering tributes. People organize themselves freely into clubs. Each club has its own emblem of birthday god, and each member contributes towards the purchase of an assortment of club’s offerings: roast pigs, baskets of oranges & red apples, dyed- red hard boiled eggs, roast chicken and pork, and boxes of special buns and cakes. There are also cups of wine and tea, bunches of red candles, incense sticks, and bundles of paper clothing together with millions of dollars of spirit money. Sometimes a fa p’aau club offers gifts of durable nature: a new embroidered red silk altar cloth, or a gold medallion for hanging round Hung Shing Kung’s neck. Such offerings are not burned but are kept in the temple for its adornment. (Law & Ward, 1982, p. 34)
Enlarged Image
Hung Shing Temple (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
Enlarged Image
Worshippers offered sacrifice in the temple. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
Enlarged Image
Fa-paau (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)

     In the afternoon, both fa p’aau clubs and individual worshipper are permitted to participate in a lucky draw trying their luck for fa p’aau, a towering floral shrine. The shrine is made of bamboo and colour paper and is hanging lettuces and lumps of ginger. Every fa paau has a number, and there are more than a dozen of fa paau prepared for the lucky draw. The name of the winning club is written on the top. At the bottom, the image of Hung Shing Kung stands in a small glass. The winner expects a year of good fortune. (Law & Ward, 1982, p. 34)

     Lot was drawn in a theatre. First there are speeches, then, embroidered banners are presented to the opera stars and local big-wigs who would later be invited to draw lucky numbers of tickets which have been purchased by dozens of hopeful club members for a few dollars each. The club with a ticket corresponding to the first number drawn gets fa paau number 1; the second gets fa paau number 2’ and so on: The luckiest is number 9. It was all very exciting…. but less exciting now than it used to be before the law against fireworks was passed in 1967. In those days, the numbers were distributed differently, using rockets. There were as many rockets as there were the fa paau prepared, each contained a numbered stick which was shot into the air and then scrambled for by the young champions of each club. Without doubt, today’s raffle is safer. But people’s eyes light up when they remember the old days. (Law & Ward, 1982, p. 34)

Enlarged Image
Selling tickets for the lucky draw (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
Enlarged Image
In memory of Professor Barbara E. Ward (d. 1983), a group of Hong Kong scholars formed the ‘South China Research Fa-paau Club’ to participate actively in the festival, and through the process, understand the Chinese society. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)

     By custom each winner needs to buy a new one, costing a few thousand dollars, and sends it, with the company of Dancing Lions or Unicorns, to Kau Sai for next year’s festival. Thus, some winners would prefer to sell the fa paau to the unsuccessful club and thereby earn some money. Anyway, by winning and returning the fa paau, the festival maintains close link between the deity and its worshippers.

   
References:

     Joan Law & Barbara E. Ward, Chinese Festivals in Hong Kong, Hong Kong: South China Morning Post, 1982.

     Barbara E. Ward, Through Other Eyes: An Anthropologist’s View of Hong Kong: Hong Kong, The Chinese University Press, 1985, 1989.

   
Author: Dr. Sui-wai Cheung
Date: June, 2005
Video Making: Creating Culture Press
Sponsored by the LEARNet Production Fund