The Yimin Festival originated in 1786 when Lin Shuangwen rebelled in Changhua against the Qing Dynasty government, and the chaos quickly swept across Taiwan. The officers and men were unable to confront the rebels and there were countless deaths and injuries. The bandits took advantage of the situation to attack Hsinchu County. At this time, the Hakkas near Hsinchu's Xinpu organized a volunteer army to bravely resist the bandits and fight in bloody battles, and many of their lives were sacrificed as a result.
In the battles to defend their homeland, more than 200 brave Hakka people lost their lives. The members of wealthy local gentry were grateful for the loyalty and courage of the martyrs. They couldn't bear to see the martyrdom of the righteous martyrs taken for granted, so they went out to the battlefields to collect the skeletons of the soldiers and buried them in Xinpu. At that time, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty commended the Yimins (righteous people) for their spirit of defending the country and their homeland. A plaque on which the words Bao Zhong (??, honor the loyal) were inscribed was awarded to the heroes and placed in a hall, which was built to honor them and called Baozhong Hall or Yimin Temple.
Since then, the Yimin Temple has held ritual activities every year to commemorate the martyrs. In 1835, the 20th day in the seventh lunar month was selected as the day for the Yimin Festival along with the Zhongyuan Festival (a festival to honor ghosts). During the Yimin Festival, residents from 15 local villages pay respects to the martyrs. Nowadays, the Yimin Festival has become a symbol of the Hakka spirit. Every year, many Hakka expatriates will travel from far away, coming back to participate in the festival at the Yimin Temple.
On the afternoon two days before the Yimin Festival, three lantern poles are being raised. The socalled lantern pole is a long bamboo raft with a round lantern hung on the top, and a long banner running down that reads Celebrating Zhongyuan. It's a way to gather the souls of the deceased for the festival. The purpose of the lantern is to make it easier for those lonely ghosts to recognize the direction they should go and guide them to come to the worshipping ceremony to enjoy the food and drinks offered to them.
Next, the festival organizers bring out the lord of ghosts, a statue made of bamboo and paper, which plays an indispensable role in the worshipping ceremony. On the following day people will release small floating lit candles into the water in a custom that signifies guiding the ghosts to the festival ceremony site. After that, the whole festival is kicked off in the ceremony of Baitiangong (???), praying to the Heavenly Lord. One of the main events at this ceremony is sacrificing divine pigs and divine sheep and offering them to the Yiminye or the martyrs.
The divine pigs and divine sheep are chosen after intense competition. After they are slaughtered and skinned, at least 20 of them are hoisted on wooden frames and hung on the beautifully decorated pig and sheep shed set up in front of the temple. This scene usually attracts a lot of spectators. At the end of the festival, the pigs and sheep need to be transported back to the villages where they came from to be used in further worshipping. After they are offered in worshipping ceremonies, the meat is then distributed to relatives and friends, to thank them for their hard work. At night, Taoist monks burn the paper statue lord of ghosts, and the Yimin Festival comes to an end.
Today, the belief in the Yiminye is extremely common, and it has even become a farreaching and stable force for culture, faith, education and the economy in local communities. The current generation of Hakka people, while cherishing the sacrifices of the Yimin martyrs, also encourages people to learn from the spirit of their loyalty to do their part for their local community.
Source: Hakka Affairs Council