Becky Whitlock - Bath, UK

The Blurb:

This festival is held over the first 9 days of the 9th lunar month to celebrate the return from heaven to earth of the Nine Emperor spirits, who are worshipped as one deity and who represent health, wealth and prosperity.

Their arrival is said to be made via the waterways and worshippers fill the temples to make offerings of incense and prayer so that good fortune will be granted them.

Chinese opera is performed in the Nine Emperor God's honour, and at the height of the festivities, priests write charms and prayers in their own blood, before the spirits are contained in an urn which is sent out to sea on a small, decorated boat.

The Gory Legend Bit:

Legend has it that nine emperors were sent by the Mings to overthrow the Manchus, but they failed their task and were captured and beheaded. The Manchus sealed their heads in an urn and threw them out to sea where they were later washed ashore. Some fishermen found the urn, and on opening it, the Nine Emperor spirits were released and sent into heaven.

When the Manchu emperor heard the news, he repented and built and dedicated a temple to the Nine Emperor God. The sending out to sea of the urn is symbolic of the spirits' safe passage back to heaven.

The End of Festival Celebrations:

After receiving a mumbled version of "The Blurb" from a reluctant me, we all trotted out of the hostel with Hai and Ping as our trusty leaders to go to see the last night's celebrations.

We arrived to see hundreds of people assembled at the altars and on the stages which held many people praying and waving their incense sticks in the Nine Emperor God's honour. There seemed to be a tense excitement in the air, and soon, an energetic little fella with a gong and the will to deafen, set about announcing the arrival of the sedan chairs and their bearers.

The sedans are said to hold the nine spirits and they were rocking madly from side to side, leaving us scurrying for a safe vantage point and, at one point, in fear for our safety! Luckily, no one was maimed and amidst much gong-banging and cymbal-crashing, the sedans were carried around inside the circle the crowd had formed. Burning incense poured out of the sedans and left the air heavy with acrid smoke. It all seemed incredibly "shamanistic" and very exciting. Even for a heathen like myself, I was intrigued to see what would happen next...

We were shooed away from the stages and ushered onto the street where we watched the sedans come out and form a procession in a haze of sweet smoke, the clamour of gongs and drums and cymbals.

The next part of the festivities was to gather by the water so that the spirits could be safely returned to heaven. We jumped onto buses, thick with the ever present incense smoke, and hopped off again, eyes red and watering profusely, into a stormy night - complete with impressive lightning and lots of "refreshing" rain.

We crowded onto the grass by the water's edge and waited while more gongs and cymbals crashed (along with the thunder which was only vaguely louder) and the spirits were summoned.

Incense sticks were handed out to the crowd and we stodd in the pouring rain, dutifully waving them - much to the amusement of one of the devotees, who noted what a funny-looking bunch we were, but laughed and encouraged us nonetheless.

Suddenly, it all went very quiet on the stage, at which point the priest may have been "blood-writing", but the gong soon sounded again and the sedans were back, twisting and whirling resplendent in red, gold and flashing neon fairylights. They were closely followed by a Chinese dragon whose appearance was brief (must have been the rain) and we were hot on his heels (or should that be talons) having long since turned into little icicles from the cold rain.

After another bus ride and a very splashy walk through the city, we just missed the train (despite a last minute, squelchy dash) but our trusty leaders sorted out taxis for us and we were soon back at the hostel for a cuppa and some chicken and rice.

It was a fantastic night and a wicked experience and I would recommend you take any opportunities to be a part of a similarly mad evening - thanks Hai and Ping for making sure we didn't get run over, hit by a flying sedan or trampled by the Chinese dragon!


Becky Whitlock - 5 October 2003

Gathering outside the Nine Emperor God Temple, Upper Serangoon.


Becky, our excellent reporter.

Smoke-filled shrine.

Out come the sedans!

Rocking the sedan.

The Vantage Point.

Paul, Cheryl, Phil and Darren.

Devotees offering incense.

Twist and Shout.


Man with the Gong.

Swinging the Sedan.

Paul, Becky and Kay.

Girls playing with the Big-Headed Doll.


Let's rock!

Perfuming the streets.

The Procession.

Deafening gongs and cymbals.

Waiting for the floats.

This is better than Chingay!

Curious onlookers.

Truckful of noise!

Passing Float.

Waiting for our bus in the rain.

The Smoky Bus Ride to the River.

Two Pauls all excited about the teary ride.

Lion Dance in the Rain.

Cha, cha, cha.

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The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods