35,000 ducks saved from a bloody, annual sacrifice
FOR NEARLY 70 years, people in the county of Huichang have sacrificed tens of thousands of ducks at local temples as part of a religious tradition.
But regional government officials have pledged to eradicate this practice in the name of "love, peace and civilisation".
Remarkably, they say they are succeeding by encouraging its citizens to burn paper and plastic ducks instead.
Every year since 1949, during the Laigong Temple Fair, thousands of Huichang residents have descended, in particular, on Cuizhu Temple in Fuwei - carrying ducks and fireworks to worship local god Laigong, and pray for health and safety.
The ensuing sacrifices, over several days, have - as described by locals - created a ghastly "river of blood" outside the temple.
Last year, local officials decided it was time to bring an end to the local custom.
They ordered the manufacture of paper and plastic ducks - even ducks drawn on pieces of paper - and handed them out for free at nearby stalls.
"Most of the religions in the world have the same thing in common - promoting love, peace and civilisation," said Guo Jinghong, head of the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs in Huichang, in the lead-up to this month's festival.
"Killing ducks itself is a bloody behaviour so it's time for us to help the citizens understand Taoism and the true meaning of the Laigong Temple Fair."
It was triggered by the most unlikely of instigators - Asia's leading playwright Stan Lai.
The United States-born director from Taiwan raised concerns about the religious custom last year when he returned to Huichang - his father's hometown - to prepare a stage play.
Six months later, the Laigong festival, Lai said, had begun its transformation.
"To my amazement, they went ahead and made these plastic ducks and they gave them to anyone who would vow not to kill their ducks, and so I saved about 35,000 duck lives last year," he said.
"And this year they asked me what I wanted to do, and I said let's make candles.
"I just saw the prototype yesterday and it's really cute - a small yellow duck candle, and I'm hoping we can light them near the temple."
Mr Guo said the local government decided to take action because "with the (number of) people increasing year by year, the hidden troubles are becoming more and more".
Huichang county, in south-eastern China's Jiangxi province, has a population of around 500,000.
A market-stall operator near the Cuizhu Temple said at least 10,000 paper and plastic ducks were given away last year.
This year, local officials will also try to reduce the use of fireworks.
"It brings too much noise and pollution," Mr Guo said.
ASIA NEWS NETWORK