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TAITUNG, Taiwan (Reuters Life!) - Being burned by fireworks is considered a stroke of bad luck, but for Taiwanese who willingly subject themselves to an explosive barrage, it's all about good fortune.
In one of Taiwan's wildest but least-known rituals to mark the Lunar New Year, five men in the southern city of Taitung asked to be showered with fireworks, and were burned by them.
Traditionally, the targets endure the pain to get rid of evil spirits and change their luck for the year ahead. Today, the men let themselves get burned to show strength and bring prosperity to the local merchant who hired them.
"I'm a thug, and I want to become an official," joked Chen Chin-yi about why he volunteered for a 25th year to get burned in the smoky annual Han Dan ritual. "I won't go to the hospital. I treat my wounds at friends' homes."
The ritual's namesake, Han Dan, is said to be a god of wealth who likes fire but fears the cold, so believers throw firecrackers to please him.
Chen emerged from the ritual with small burns all over his tattooed, largely unclothed body after letting about 30 men throw wads of firecrackers at him while he rode on a sedan carriage. About 1,000 people watched from the street.
This year, a local jeweler hired Chen and the other four men to improve its own fortunes.
"For us, this is to welcome more business," said Hu Dai-fen, 48, whose family runs the shop that requested the show, paying about T$70,000 ($2,100) for the fireworks and the gold medals given out to the wounded volunteers.
All the men were "bombed" for about two minutes each as onlookers applauded, while ducking the flaming debris of firecrackers that missed their marks.
"There is a danger. Sometimes these guys can't walk for a week," said Wang Cheng-fu, an event coordinator. "But one who's experienced can last for more than 10 minutes."
Despite the risks, Taitung, population 240,000, has allowed the ritual to be held for most of the past 50 years and has even started to promote it as a tourist attraction.
Some spectators go just for a blast. Others see the event as maintaining tradition.
"In the past few years the Lunar New Year atmosphere has become diluted, but this won't be forgotten by our children," said Taitung resident Chuang Shu-fen.
Han Dan rituals began this year in Taitung from Friday with local government-sponsored shows that try not to burn anyone.
Taiwan is a hotbed of traditional Chinese culture, honoring the two-week festivities that mark the beginning of the Lunar New Year with mass displays of lanterns, a cow-themed light show for Year of the Ox and other fireworks displays.
Editing by Miral Fahmy