Taiwanese Pigeon Whistle VS. Chinese Pigeon Whistle

Pigeon Whistle refers to the sound-making wind instrument so that the pigeons can carry the pigeon whistles with the sounds when flying. In China, there are similar instrument similar to Taiwanese pigeon whistles, known as Chinese pigeon whistles.


Chinese Pigeon Whistle–2 Piece

Chinese Pigeon Whistle - Gourd

Taiwanese Pigeon Whistle Prototype

Pigeon arrying short whistle

(courtesy by Principle Wun-Bo Huang)


Origin: Appearance in Taiwan between 1662∼1683 vs. Appearance in China between 960~1279

The origin of pigeon whistle commonly known in Taiwan started from 1662 and 1683, where the soldiers would install bamboo whistles on military homing pigeons as entertainment during leisure time, in regions known as Sinying and Yanshei Districts today, so the whistling resounded across the sky as the pigeons flew. As more people started to play, the humanity to show off and compete also appeared. It was considered an honor to have one’s pigeon carrying bigger bamboo whistles than others, which meant that the pigeon one raised was stronger. The result of competition lead to bigger bamboo whistles carried by pigeons, which finally evolved to pigeon whistle carrying competition.

However events related to Chinese pigeon whistle and Taiwanese pigeon whistle can be dated back to the Song Dynasty of China from 1000 years ago, when treated as folk entertainment of the same kind. Both could possibly be used for the war at the beginning. It was recorded in history that when Li Yuanhao from Western Xia led soldiers to attack Song Imperial, the Song military was set up by Xia military, where the Song military discovered seral sealed boxes and opened the boxes. More than one hundred of pigeons with whistles flew form the boxes and circled around Song military. The Xia military knew that the Song military already entered ambush and attacked when they heard the loud pigeon whistle. Song military was ambushed and defeated utterly with more than 70,000 soldiers injured.

The pigeon whistle for military use turned into folk entertainment roughly during Song dynasty, as many poets mentioned about releasing pigeon whistle and playing with pigeon whistles. By Qing Dynasty, the descendants of the privileged families in Beijing were fond of art and entertainment, turning pigeon whistle into the entertainment and flaunting games for the upscale society like the cockfight and cricket fighting. The making of pigeon whistle became more sophisticated and diverse. At the time, pigeon whistle craftsmen would even seal the pigeon whistle as brand certification.


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In spite of some origin between Taiwanese and Chinese pigeon whistles, it was the Taiwanese pigeon whistle that underwent unique evolution from pure whistling sound to the whistle loading completion between villages. The Chinese pigeon whistling custom features sound as entertainment and still so until today. Hence, they key to pigeon whistle lies on sound making while the compact design of pigeon whistle also attracts collectors gradually.

The Taiwanese pigeon whistle racing was also formerly entertainment for pigeons whistle sound but it transformed into a load relay race for carrying pigeon whistle some time in between. Due to the transformation in competition nature, the requirement for pigeon whistles also differs. For example, since it is a loading race, there must be objective judgment for the dimension and patterns. Hence the making of Taiwanese pigeon whistles values consistency in dimension and specification. A race may require some tens of pigeon whistle and in spite of the different sizes, they all look the same and do not vary like Chinese pigeon whistles. In addition, the content of pigeon whistle facing does not include sounds and hence the making of Taiwanese pigeon whistle does not emphasize on the variation in sounds but only requires buzzing sound.

The evolution from pure pigeon whistle release to pigeon whistle load racing is really untraceable. However a reasonable speculation is that the gaming competition between two or more people have evolved into team-based relay race, where the flocks of pigeons from both parties have always carrying whistles since young by the time they can carry large pigeon whistle, until the pigeons of one party cannot carry anymore. As for why it has evolved into village-based race, it could be dated back to the prevalent fighting between Taiwanese villages in the early days. The villages in Taiwan used to be very united and liked to make fight scenes. The neighboring villages often competed with each other in parades or drama performance while pigeon whistle racing could have become a contest between the villages. For this reason the villages often became hostile due to the result of pigeon whistle racing.