7 Tips to Survive the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

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Blog Post Title - 7 Tips to Survive the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

 

Updated February 2017

 

The Part of Taiwan Lantern Festival that Many People Don’t Know About

February 11, 2017 marks the first day of Lantern Festival, the 15th day after Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar. It also marks the day of a very unique and dangerous festival that I have personally participated in, the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival.

 

Highway sign on the way to the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
Highway sign on the way to the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

A Brief History of Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

Considered one of the top 5 most dangerous festivals in the world, the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival is said to have originated in the late 1800s. A 20-year cholera epidemic had been afflicting Yanshui, which was a major trading port near Tainan (Taiwan’s former capital) in southern Taiwan.

At that time, medicine was limited and quite primitive, so Yanshui residents, with the help of a local temple priest, pleaded for help from Guan Gong (also Kuan Kung or Guan Di), the God of War, to bring an end to the epidemic and to save them. It is believed that Guan Gong answered their plea and agreed to help them, but that he requested that his spirit be welcomed with fireworks.

 

Guan Gong god at Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
Guan Gong, the red-faced god of justice, loyalty, strength and protection, was a real General during the Han Dynasty and died in the year 219.

 

So the residents paraded a palanquin carrying Guan Gong around the city while his faithful followers set off thousands of fireworks. They believed that the fireworks chased away the evil spirits that attached themselves to people, making them sick, and that if a person was hit by one of the fireworks, he or she would have good luck.

 

Palanquin with Guan Gong for Yanshui Fireworks Festival
Residents of Yanshui parade palanquins like this around with Guan Gong while blasting off the firecrackers. As you can see, the statue of the god is well-protected from the fireworks.

 

Apparently, this worked, because the cholera epidemic did end, and it’s believed that the sulfur from all the fireworks somehow killed the cholera bacteria, and that the noise from the fireworks scared the rats away. Whether that part is true or just folklore, the residents of Yanshui have continued the firework tradition to this day.

 

Guan Gong Inside the Palanquin for Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
Close-up of Guan Gong inside one of the palanquins to be wheeled around the town for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

Present Day Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

I went to Yanshui for the 2012 Beehive Fireworks Festival. It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely a crazy experience.

The “beehive” consists of a large rack-like structure on wheels, called a gun wall – think of something similar to a rack at a bakery that holds all the trays of bread, only much bigger – and on each rack are lined thousands of fireworks like bottle rockets.

The smaller gun walls hold around 4,000 rockets, and the larger ones hold around 6,000. (Although I didn’t see that many, I’ve heard reports that there are around 200 of these gun walls that are used each year in Yanshui!) The gun walls are then wheeled around in the streets, and they periodically stop in front of businesses and then are lit.

 

Fireworks at Yanshui Fireworks Festival
Beehive Fireworks being let off in front of some businesses in Yanshui during the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. This is their way of blessing the business by getting rid of any bad luck or evil spirits.

 

Once lit, all these thousands of fireworks go off at once, horizontally into the crowd of people, creating the effect of a noisy beehive of squealing bottle rockets trailed by orange streaks of light. The idea is that you actually want to get hit by them, because it means you will have good luck in the coming year! Many onlookers watch the event from a safe distance, but the more adventurous people, like myself, try to get as close to the fireworks as possible.

Check out the video I shot during the event. Partway through, you can see me look down a couple times with the camera. I got hit twice by the rockets, and the second time I looked down, I was checking to see if I was on fire, ha ha. Also note that it’s part of the “ritual” for people to hop up and down, as you’ll see in the video.

 

 

7 Tips to Prepare for (and Survive) the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

The festival is a lot of fun, and I would definitely do it again sometime, but if you want to fully participate, it’s not something you can just show up to without preparation. I was lucky enough to go with Taiwanese friends who knew all the tricks, but if it’s your first time, here are some tips to keep yourself safe while enjoying the full experience.

 

1. Cover EVERYTHING From Head to Toe

This is the most important thing if you plan to actually participate in the beehive. Make sure, from the top of your head, down to your feet, that nothing is exposed, and wear non-flammable clothing like cotton. Don’t let any skin remain exposed. The fireworks will burn anything they hit, including your skin and your clothes. Just like that little bit of toothpaste or that squeeze of lemon that always ends up in your eye, those whizzing fireworks find their way into the tiniest exposed places.

 

Proper Way to Dress for Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
This is the proper way to dress for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. (Photo provided by a Taiwanese friend who wished to remain anonymous.)

 

2. Wear a Helmet with a Visor

You must protect your head and your face. The best way is with a helmet that has a full-face visor. Then, attach a towel to the helmet that wraps completely around your neck. Not only do the fireworks burn, but they also hurt when they hit you.

If you’ve ever played paintball, it feels about like that only worse, and the fireworks definitely leave bruises. So it’s important to protect your head, and especially your face and eyes. The towel also prevents any fireworks from going up inside your helmet where they can explode and do more serious damage to your hearing or eyesight.

 

People Dressed and Ready for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
People dressed and ready for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival with towels taped to their helmets to protect their necks.

 

3. DO NOT Wear a Plastic Rain Coat!

A lot of people wear their plastic rain coats as their “protection” from the fireworks. However, I strongly advise that you DON’T do this. What happens is the fireworks hit the raincoats, which melts the plastic, and then the plastic melts onto the skin and continues to burn because it can’t be quickly or easily removed.

In Yanshui, there are a lot of police and paramedics at almost every corner with hoses ready to put little fires out on people (no joke), but my friends and I also saw and heard about A LOT of people with severe burns because of plastic raincoats.

Although it’ll feel hot with all the layers (southern Taiwan is quite warm this time of year), it’s better to wear jeans (because they’re thick and made of cotton) and some kind of cotton jacket that won’t catch fire or melt.

 

The hole in my pants where a firework hit me and the bruise it left on my leg
I wore a cotton jacket with plastic rain pants over my jeans. I was hit by a firecracker above my knee, and it blew a hole in the rain pants. I was lucky it didn’t melt the plastic, but it left me with quite a bruise. The bruise was the size of a baseball the next day!

 

4. Wear a Mask or Scarf Over Your Nose and Mouth

The air gets super smoky and full of tiny debris from the exploded fireworks. If you have sensitive eyes, you might even consider wearing goggles. I wear contacts, but I didn’t wear goggles, and although I was okay with just the helmet and visor, my eyes did start to burn after a while.

 

Me In My Helmet for the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
Not the best photo, but that’s me, all protected and taped up in my helmet, ready to take on the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival.

 

5. Duct Tape is Your Friend

As I mentioned above, a lot of people tape towels to their helmets to protect their neck area. If you’re planning to get closer to the fireworks, it’s also a good idea to tape the wrists of your gloves to your jacket if you can’t tuck them in.

If your pants have a big opening at the bottom and don’t quite cover your shoes, I also recommend taping around your ankles. You’d be surprised where those little firecrackers can go. I wore tall rain boots under my pants, and I got hit on my boots several times.

 

People Getting Dressed for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
People getting dressed for the 2012 Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. You could hear the sounds of duct tape practically echoing through the streets, haha!

 

6. Bring Something to Cover or Protect Your Camera or Phone

You’ll definitely want to get pictures and video of the whole experience, but those little firecrackers pack a punch and can break or damage your phone or camera. Just like when you go to the beach and use a waterproof cover for your camera or smartphone, I highly recommend using a protective cover when you attend the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival.

Plus, in addition to the smoke, it gets really dusty from all the firework debris that covers everything. You don’t want that getting inside your camera lens. So cover up your gear and then figure out ahead of time how to take video and pictures with your gloves on. Don’t take your gloves off when the fireworks are going off.

 

Smoke in the Air from the Firecrackers at the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
This wasn’t even the main event, just one of the businesses being blessed, but you can see how much smoke is in the air just from that. The main Beehive Fireworks event is even worse.

 

7. Recruit Your Friends to Join You!

Lastly, the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival is an event best enjoyed with a group of friends. Who else is going to duct tape you into your space suit?!

If there is one really unique and crazy thing I have done in Taiwan, it’s the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. If you can go, definitely do it, but be sure to invite your friends!

 

My friend and I dressed in protective clothing to get ready for the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival
My friend and me while we were getting ready to face the “beehive”. Our other friend (not shown) was the one taking the photo. We made a good team!

 

If you have any questions or suggestions you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. This post will be updated as pertinent, so your feedback is welcome and appreciated! Have a wonderful and safe time at the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival!

4 thoughts on “7 Tips to Survive the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

    1. Hahaha, It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure! Lots of people, lots of noise, confined in a stuffy “suit” – what’s not fun about that?! 😉

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