If you have been walking back and forth from the main campus to the Centennial Campus in the past two weeks, chances are you have seen a giant fire dragon in different parts of campus.
The dragon, measuring well over twenty feet long, feels like it came right out of a Chinese medieval nightmare. People passing by stare at it, as if they are trying to make sure it is not real before they get too close. Some stop to pose for pictures with the gigantic beast while others quickly add a picture of it to their Snap story before rushing to class.
Legend has it that, in 1888, there was an outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases that wreaked havoc in the Western and Southern Districts of Hong Kong Island. To get rid of the mosquitos, residents of those areas decided to burn grass and wave fire dragons they made with densely packed incenses. It is said to have worked and ever since then, the fire dragon dance has become an annual event to pray for the peace and safety of people living in the area. This is how the fire dragon festival came to be. Nowadays, the festival is held around Mid-Autumn Festival mainly in Aberdeen, Tai Hang and Pok Fu Lam Village.
The dragon on campus was made especially for this exhibit by a group of students at University Hall. They made use of workshops arranged in Pok Fu Lam Village–which happens to be just down the street from the hall–to learn the art of making fire dragons.
“It took us around a month to make this,” says Kenneth Wong, a second-year Arts student from University Hall, “around ten to fifteen of us worked on it for around an hour everyday with the help of a sifu.”
The dragon was constructed using a host of different materials. The body was made with hay held together and molded into shape using iron wires. Incense sticks were stuck on the fire dragon’s body by people stopping by. The eyes were dotted using cinnabar powder while the beard was made with aerial roots extracted from banyan trees, and the entire display was supported on a couple of bamboo sticks.
Pok Fu Lam Village and University Hall actually share much history. The village which happens to be one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong has records of inhabitants living there since the Qing Dynasty. Before being converted into a student residence in 1956, University Hall was known as Douglas Castle and was built in 1861 by a wealthy Scottish trader named Douglas Lapraik as a place of residence.
“We have tours which show people around Pok Fu Lam Village and University Hall,” says Eric Lee, a second-year Engineering student from University Hall, “They teach people about the history of these places.”
Though the exhibit is now over, the organizers hope to take the display and showcase it in other parts of the city later on, so that more people can learn about this century old tradition of fire dragon festivals.