What is the Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Bun Festival, and how is it celebrated today?

What is the Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Bun Festival, and how is it celebrated today?

Thousands will make their way to the sleepy island this weekend, to celebrate the annual festival, that has been running more than a century


Some climbers get in a little practice before the event.
Photo: Winson Wong/SCMP

Thousands will make their way to the sleepy island of Cheung Chau this weekend, to celebrate the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival.

The widely celebrated festival, which sees dozens of people scramble up a 14-metre-tall bamboo tower, began in the late 19th century, after a devastating plague swept the island.

Residents built an altar in front of the Pak Tai Temple and hired priests to appease the spirits of those that died during the outbreak. The plague eventually ended after these rituals were performed. More than 100 years later, the festival marks the occasion from the fifth to the ninth days of the fourth lunar month. Many of the ceremonies and traditions remain unchanged, such as inviting Taoist priests to perform rituals, and serving vegetarian food.

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The highlight of the festival is when, at midnight, dozens of men and women swarm up one of four towers covered in good-luck buns.

The towers are mounted in front of the same temple as the 1894 ceremonies. Three towers are covered in a total  of 20,000 buns in three traditional flavours: sweetened bean, lotus seed and sesame. The fourth tower holds about 9,000 plastic buns for the scramblers to grab.

The Cheung Chau bun festival is celebrated by the residents of the island, as well as tourists and Hongkongers across the city.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

The switch to plastic buns is a result of the collapse of two bun towers in 1978. More than 100 people were injured. 

“The crowd of about 2,000 scattered in panic as the towers began to crumble amid screams of horror,” wrote an SCMP reporter a day after the incident.

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The New Territories Administration cancelled the annual midnight bun scramble for the next year, because of the tragedy. This hiatus lasted 17 years.

But in 2005, organisers replaced the bamboo cones with steel frames, and the tradition began once again.

According to a report by SCMP in 2016, fireman, Jason Kwok Ka-ming – a Cheung Chau resident – holds the record for winning the event six times.

Edited by Karly Cox


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