Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

A Great Fire Lion Visits Temples around Lotus Pond

Text: Steven Crook
Photos: Rich Matheson

These days Zuoying, a Kaohsiung suburb, is best known for Lotus Pond and the colorful temples that surround this pretty body of water. But back in the 17th century, just after Koxinga expelled the Dutch East India Company from Taiwan, it was the military and administrative headquarters of Wannian County and thus a place of considerable importance. Today the toponym lives on in various forms, as “Zuoying District” and in the names of the district’s major mass-transportation hub and a large naval base, as well as in the names of happenings such as the annual Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival, evoking the glory of the past.


There are times when people on this island put their smartphones down and their 21st-century concerns and ambitions aside, and a much older Taiwan bursts into the foreground. The final day of the Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival was one such occasion.

My friends and I were positioned in front of Zuoying's Chenghuang Temple, enjoying a form of entertainment that has hardly changed in hundreds of years. Lion dancers, accompanied by drum-beating and gong-thumping musicians, teased children, opened gaping jaws and snapped them shut inches from spectators' faces, and threw candies into the crowd.

But the professional and amateur zhentou troupes that perform these and other acts aren't slavish in their adherence to tradition. Modern twists on old forms include Techno San Taizi or Techno Prince performances. Another example followed the lion dancers on this day. Five young men, dressed to resemble the key characters in Journey to the West, danced disco-style to pop music. Even if you've never heard of this classic Chinese novel, you may well know a bit about the story (based on the adventures of a seventh-century Chinese monk who traveled to India to study Buddhist scriptures) because it inspired a Japanese TV series shown throughout the English-speaking world under the title Monkey.

A few minutes later came the real star of the show – the Great Wannian Fire Lion. This effigy, cute yet dignified, is far larger than a real lion. But for a yellow underbelly, it was covered with red tinsel “fur.” Red, of course, is an auspicious color in Chinese culture.

The lion is set ablaze at the very end of the festival so as to carry the wishes of the faithful up to heaven, and is therefore designed to burn well. There's a very real risk of premature destruction, however, because thousands of firecrackers are detonated beneath and around it as it is paraded through Zuoying's streets prior to its sacrifice. I wasn't surprised to see a man following behind with a small tank of water and a hand-held sprayer, ready to put out any fires.


The modern Wannian Folklore Festival dates from 2001, when the Kaohsiung City Government's Civil Affairs Bureau began coordinating and sponsoring traditional events in Zuoying District. Since 2005 the central government's Tourism Bureau has been lending a hand, and the festival – always held in mid- or late October – has grown steadily in popularity.

The Fire Lion has its origins in rites traditionally conducted at Ciji Temple, a house of worship that overlooks Lotus Pond's southwestern corner. In these ceremonies, the lion was believed to serve as a mount for Baosheng Dadi, a medicine deity. He's far from the most important god in the expansive Chinese folk pantheon, but his career is worth reviewing. Baosheng Dadi, which means “life-protecting emperor,” is an honorific title given to Wu Ben, a healer who lived in China’s Fujian province. It’s said he once brought a skeleton back to life, and following his death in AD 1036 he was credited with successful posthumous interventions in hopeless cases – clearly an exceptional physician who deserves reverence!

For the first eight days of this nine-day-long festival, the Fire Lion tours temples and other area landmarks, going as far afield as Kaizhang Shengwang Temple. This shrine is located in Kaohsiung City's Fengshan District, some 8 km southeast of Lotus Pond.


As part of the festival, the historical links between Zuoying and Fengshan were explained during a low-key event called “Grandpa Tales Telling.” Beneath a banyan tree near the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas – probably Lotus Pond's single most famous sight – a knowledgeable gentleman outlined the area’s rich past. A crucial episode was the seizing of Zuoying in early 1787 by a force participating in a major rebellion led by a man named Lin Shuang-wen. This spelled the end of Zuoying as a political center, because the imperial court in Beijing responded by moving the county magistrate's office to what's now called Fengshan. There it stayed until Kaohsiung County was merged with Kaohsiung City at the end of 2010.

After sampling the food and getting a taste of events that happened long ago, join a session of Gongpaocheng, a spectacle not to be missed. Though an English translation of the name – “attacking the city wall with firecrackers” – makes it sound like an act of vandalism, it's actually a game of skill in which participants hurl lit fireworks at dollhouse-sized paper models of Zuoying's old city gates. These are suspended about head-height, and filled with firecrackers. Make sure your friends have their cameras ready, because if you succeed in getting a firework through the opening at the front, the gate is sure to explode in a shower of sparks.

It's said that soldiers stationed in Zuoying back in the 19th century played this game to kill time, and also to sharpen the throwing skills they'd need if they had to fight. If you want to play, register in advance through the festival's website or in person at one of the information centers. There's also a team event; in 2012, first prize was NT$20,000 cash.


Fans of the performing arts are spoiled for choice, as the festival always includes pop concerts, drumming, Taiwanese opera performances, plus choral and instrumental acts, all of which are free. The schedule for the secondary stage at the Confucius Temple included enka (popular Japanese ballads) and belly-dancing. What would the Great Sage think?

The festival also gave Kaohsiung residents a chance to see a form of Chinese opera seldom seen in Taiwan, Sichuan Face-changing Opera, during which changes in mood are conveyed by use of an amazing technique. An actor waves his cape or sleeve in front of his face, and in that split second it seems as if the previous full-face makeup is removed and a totally different color-and-pattern scheme has been applied.


This being Taiwan, the festival naturally has a culinary angle. In fact, it has two. Vendors on the western side of Lotus Pond sell everything from hot dogs to stinky tofu. Other interesting eating options can be found at the lakeside temples, which give away traditional snacks such as ong-ku-koe (Taiwanese pronunciation) and tangyuan. The former is a turtle-shaped rice-based cake which symbolizes good luck and longevity. The latter is a popular dessert consisting of little balls made with rice flour and filled with sesame paste, crushed peanuts and sugar, or something else sweet.

Note also that, since 1949, Zuoying has been home to many Chinese mainlanders, who came in the great exodus across the Taiwan Strait at the end of the Chinese Civil War, making this neighborhood perhaps the best in the metropolis for authentic mainland delicacies.

As you can see, you’ll have much to see and do at Lotus Lake and in the surrounding district during the Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival. Be sure to arrive with an empty stomach, plenty of space on your camera's memory card, and a wish to pin on the Fire Lion!



Lotus Pond is easy to reach. If you're coming from another city, you may want to take a Taiwan High Speed Rail train to Kaohsiung's THSR Zuoying Station and then take a Red 51 bus. The TRA (regular railway) station closest to Lotus Pond is “old” Zuoying Station (not to be confused with New Zuoying Station, part of the same complex containing the HSR station). From it, you can walk to Lotus Pond in less than 10 minutes.

Other attractions in the area include the North Gate of Zuoying Old City and two sites that will appeal to ecotourists. Zhouzai Wetland Park is where the Pheasant-tailed jacana, a rare wading bird, was first sighted in Taiwan; the species has returned following restoration of the environment. Also within walking distance of Lotus Pond is the 4.66-hectare Protogenic Plants Garden, which has a collection of indigenous plants and trees that nature-lovers will find engrossing.



English and Chinese

Baosheng Dadi保生大帝
Chenghuang Temple城隍廟
Zhouzai Wetland Park洲仔濕地公園
Ciji Temple慈濟宮
Confucius Temple孔廟
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas龍虎塔
Fengshan District鳳山區
“Grandpa Tales Telling”阿公來講古
Great Wannian Fire Lion萬年迓火獅
Journey to the West西遊記
Kaizhang Shengwang Temple開漳聖王廟
Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival高雄左營萬年季
Lin Shuang-wen林爽文
Lotus Pond蓮池潭
North Gate of Zuoying Old City左營舊城
Protogenic Plants Garden原生植物園
Sichuan Face-changing Opera川劇變臉
Techno San Taizi電音三太子
Wannian County萬年縣
Wu Ben吳本


Lovely Lotus Flower Fields

Little Streets and Small Alleys

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi


Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)


Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild


Taipei Int'l Flora Expo




Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!


Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART


Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu