While Daoist principles can make a contribution to innovative thinking, it has a hands-on impact on the economy in the area of consumption. Notably temple fairs and festivals in particular offer great opportunities for people to engage in buying and selling, advance marketing and advertising.
Most inner city temples have regular fairs. For example, the Baxian an 八仙庵 (Eight Immortals’ Hermitage) in the eastern part of downtown Xi’an holds its fair twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Sundays. A cross between a farmers’ market and a flea market, it sees vendors of all kinds and status spread throughout the neighborhood, especially to the south and east of the temple, while crowds throng the streets.
Offerings include fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes, household goods, pottery, knickknacks, religious paraphernalia, and antiques. Some vendors set up on organized stalls on the roadside; others just spread a cloth to display their wares in squares and courtyards. In addition, shoppers can enjoy street food and snacks of all sorts and types, on-the-spot foot massages, and fortune-telling. The atmosphere is cheerful and vibrant, and a good time is had by all.
Festivals are fairs on steroids. They only occur once or twice a year, usually in conjunction with a major deity’s birthday or at special seasonal occasions such as New Year’s, but then they last several days or even a week. In addition to much larger numbers of vendors, coming from farther away and spreading more widely throughout the area, they come with elaborate rituals and performances of various kinds. Traditionally theater was always closely connected to religion, and many temples have stages for operatic and other presentations, dedicated primarily to the gods but also for humans to enjoy. In addition, festivals often feature daring acrobatics, magic shows, exploding fireworks, cacophonic music, lion dances, rhythmic drumming, as well as all different kinds of street performers and entertainers.
Beyond that, the local temple association will take the birthday god for a tour of the neighborhood, creating a noisy and colorful parade that may involve motorized vehicles, hand-drawn carts, people on foot, musical bands, and various special performers. Two distinct groups of local lay devotees usually accompany the deities on foot, wearing a common uniform that usual consists of T-shirts and ball caps bearing the name of the temple. One group usually has somewhat rough looking young men; the other—in sharp contrast—has merry older folks, both men and women. The former group can loosely be defined as temple parade security; the latter comprises the faithful who believe they gather divine favor by accompanying the parades.
All this creates great economic opportunity, businesses fulfilling the needs of participants—costumes, props, accommodation, food—as well as engaging with large crowds of onlookers, who often come from far away, engaging in an increasingly popular mix of tourism and pilgrimage.
Read: Kennedy, Brian L, and Elizabeth Kuo. 2009. “Taiwanese Temple Parades and Their Martial Motifs.” Journal of Daoist Studies 2:197-209.