Bai Xin Ding--Praying for the Well-being of a New-Born Son

In many Hakka villages in Taiwan, there is a folk custom known as “Bai Xin Ding (拜新丁)” or “Xin Ding Ban (新丁粄)”, which has its origins in reporting the birth of a son in the family and praying for his well-being. It is held during the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar. Places where this folk custom is observed include: Dongshi District in Taichung City; Xindian Village in Shitan Township, Miaoli County; Meinong District in Kaohsiung City; Haifeng District, Jiadong Township, and Hengchun Township in Pingtung County. Among these places, the biggest celebration is held in Taichung’s Dongshi District.

(Photo: CNA)

Ban” in the Hakka language is the name Hakka people give to food made from glutinous rice. The Fujianese people commonly call this “Guo” or "Kui" in Hoklo. The so-called "Xin Ding Ban" refers to glutinous rice snacks made when a son is born or when praying for the safety and health of a newborn son. Therefore, "Da Xin Ding” is the abbreviation of making new glutinous rice snacks, and "Bai Xin Ding” refers to the ritual of taking the finished glutinous rice snacks to the temple table as offerings. 

Xin Ding,” as the name suggests, refers to a newborn boy. In agricultural societies, the production of rice or rice food requires a huge amount of labor and manpower. In contrast to indigenous tribes in which men are responsible for hunting and women for cultivating crops, farm work in Han societies is mainly done by men. This affected the importance people placed on having sons and the society’s preference for boys. Xin Ding Ban is a culmination of society’s expectations and desires for male vitality and labor.

In the early days of Taiwan's agricultural society, the addition of a son to Hakka households was a major family event which had to be reported to the ancestors and gods. In order to pray for the son’s safety, the family would make Xin Ding Ban in the shape of red tortoise cakes (as tortoises symbolize longevity) on Lantern Festival, stack them one by one to worship the heaven and the earth, thank gods and beg them to protect the children so they can grow up in good health. The surface of the Hakka glutinous cakes are dyed with red food coloring. After worshiping the gods, the cakes are distributed to relatives and friends to share the joy of having a newborn son. The Hakka Xin Ding Ban is different from the Fujianese red tortoise dumpling. The traditional Hakka Xin Ding Ban is without filling and embossing patterns. The Fujianese red tortoise dumpling is usually embossed and stuffed with red bean filling, with the pattern being a tortoise shell that symbolizes longevity and happiness.

The “Sai Ding Ban” or competition for making this type of glutinous cakes is unique in Dongshi. Originally, it was just a ritual of praying to the gods, but over the years it has turned into a competition. Every year in the middle of the first lunar month, families who had a newborn son, grandson or great grandson would make Xin Ding Ban glutinous rice cakes and offer them to the gods at the temple. The number of cakes made by each family is based on the number of members the temple has. During the cake sharing process, the largest and heaviest glutinous cake is selected, and the family that made it is publicly praised and awarded with a bonus. In this healthy competition, the Xin Ding Ban prepared by people have become bigger and bigger every year, and every “ace” glutinous cake entered in the contest becomes the focus of attention on that day.

In response to the modern society’s emphasis on gender equality, people have come to believe that whether a boy or a girl is born, they have the same wishes for the child to grow up healthy and happy. Therefore, the folk custom Xin Ding Ban has been revised and transformed with the changing times into an event that blesses both sons and daughters. The girls’ glutinous cakes are called Qian Jin Ban (千金粄) as girls are seen as a precious treasure in the eyes of her parents. Qian Jin Ban are made in the shape of a pink peach. No matter how the Xin Ding Ban activities change, they have been transformed from a street and village activity to a national cultural festival, and from the family to the larger society. Due to Taiwan’s declining birthrate, the traditional society’s emphasis on new births remains meaningful in this era.