Sichuan Opera

There are numerous differences between Western and Chinese opera, the most notable of which is that Western opera tends to follow one long plotline, while Chinese opera is usually made up of several separate components, including circus-like stunts, short dramas, and story-telling portions. This difference is never more obvious than in Sichuan opera, which thrives on its magnificent spectacles and outrageous comedic skits to keep the audience wholly entertained. Employing expert clowns, illusionists, and acrobats, it’s a performance art that represents a true feast for the eyes!

This style of opera originated from Sichuan province sometime during the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is actually comprised of five other, much older styles of opera. These five styles are known as Gaoqiang, Kunqiang, Huqing voice, Tanxi, and Dengdiao or Lantern theatre. Some of them date all the way back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD) and represent some of the oldest styles of opera in China. As their popularity began to wane, a revival movement was begun during the early 20th century. In 1912, a reformer named Kang Zhilin established the Sanqing or “Three Celebrations” Company, which came to be known as one of the most prominent opera troupes in China.

It was Kang who combined these five historic styles to form traditional Sichuan opera. Many of the trademark physical movements and tropes of this style were masterminded by Kang himself. Over time, the style not only absorbed features from the other styles, but started to incorporate elements of the province’s local languages, customs, and folk songs. In this way, it is inextricably linked to Sichuan and its heart will always remain in the provincial capital of Chengdu.

Nowadays Sichuan opera is said to boast over 3,000 stories, most of which date back to the Three Kingdoms Period, the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Many of them are comedies and the style itself is renowned for its vivacity, good humour, and breath-taking stunts. The singing is usually in a higher pitch than Beijing opera and is also known for being less constrained. Unlike more dramatic styles of Chinese opera, the face paint is subtle and typically limited to the colours black, red, white, and grey. It’s missing the archetypal jing or villain character, so normally an evil character is simply indicated by a small patch of white paint in the middle of the face.

While the traditional formula for the opera is quite systematic, it is punctuated by lively acts of face-changing, beard-changing, fire-spitting, rolling light, and puppetry. The art of face-changing is unique to Chinese opera and has been a closely guarded secret for centuries. It is said the practice originated when ancient people would paint their faces to scare away wild animals, but has since been perfected into a performance art of the highest order. The act involves one performer changing their face mask within the blink of an eye, with masters of the art switching between a staggering 10 masks in less than 20 seconds!

No one knows exactly how it is done, as the secret is only passed down among theatre families, but there are roughly three methods: the wiping mask, the blowing mask, and the pulling mask. During the wiping mask routine, the actor hides cosmetic paint in his eyebrows or sideburns. At the opportune moment, he will turn away from the audience and swiftly wipe the paint into a pattern on his face. Similarly, the blowing mask routine involves the actor holding a box of powdered cosmetics and blowing on it. Since the actor will have oiled his face beforehand, the powder will naturally fly up and adhere to his face.

The pulling mask routine, however, is by far the most popular and the most complicated. The masks are delicately painted beforehand on silk fabric, which is cut, attached to a silk thread, and lightly pasted to the face. Each one is gently laid on top of the other and the silk threads are hidden somewhere within the actor’s costume. With a sharp flick of his cloak, the actor is able to pull away each mask one by one, although the exact method is still a tantalising mystery. In short, we may never know what secrets are hidden behind the mask!

The different coloured masks are used to represent the actor’s characteristics and function to tell a simple story, much like a one-man monologue. For example, red represents someone who is steadfast, black signifies the character is righteous, green or blue symbolises that they are strong or violent, and white implies the person is treacherous. This veritable rainbow of traits is the ideal way for the performer to reflect their character’s hidden feelings without speaking, since the face-changing act contains no dialogue whatsoever. In some simplified versions of the act, the performer will simply pull on his beard and have it change colour from black to grey to white, in order to show displeasure or confusion.

In many cases, face-changing is combined with the fire-spitting act to add an extra dimension of complexity. While fire-spitting is not uncommon in performances throughout the world, actors in Sichuan opera are capable of spitting a fire column that is up to 2 metres (6.6 ft.) in height! In a similarly fiery display, the act known as rolling light involves the actor performing a series of complicated acrobatic moves while balancing a bowl of fire on is head.

The character is typically a clown and the set-up is normally that of a woman angry with her husband. For example, one skit involves a married couple arguing about the husband’s gambling. Throughout the course of the argument, the wife demands that the husband perform a series of increasingly difficult tasks while balancing the bowl on his head. Other highlights include the stick puppet and shadow puppet shows, which usually revolve around traditional Chinese mythology and folktales. With so much on offer, Sichuan opera is certainly one of the most diverse forms of Chinese opera and has something to suit everyone’s tastes!

Cultural Impact of Jin Dynasty

the life of Jin dynasty

Although the Jin Dynasty (265-420) was a time of brutal warfare and great political upheaval, the influx of tribal immigrants and the subsequent social change that took place during this dynasty also hugely influenced Chinese culture and art. In particular, the Jin Dynasty and the subsequent Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (420-589) represented a golden age for Buddhism and other belief systems. From the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang to the Maijishan Grottoes near Tianshui, Buddhism flourished not only as a belief system but also as an art form.

This spiritual shift began during the later Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), when Confucianism slowly started to lose its prestige. By the beginning of the 3rd century, as it became more and more evident that the Han Dynasty was on the brink of collapse, scholars became gradually disillusioned with Confucian principles as they had failed to save the dynasty that had advocated them so strongly. This led to many scholars turning their attention to other schools of thought.

Within this intellectual movement, a new trend emerged and appeared to dominate the lives of the educated minority. This complex set of beliefs, known as xuanxue or “dark learning”, was based predominantly on three Taoist texts: the Zhouyi, the Tao Te Ching, and the Zhuangzi. Followers of xuanxue were preoccupied with ontological and metaphysical problems, but tackled these issues by incorporating ancient Chinese philosophies into their thinking. The idea was founded on the assumption that anything nameable, such as movement, change, and diversity, sprang from and was sustained by one detached principle, which was by definition unlimited, unnameable, unmoving, and unchanging.

In spite of its abstract nature, xuanxue became incredibly popular among the cultural circles of medieval China and enjoyed particularly prestige in the city of Jiankang (modern-day Nanjing). Renowned celebrities of the time, such as the poet Ji Kang, counted themselves among its supporters. Kang followed a popular branch of xuanxue known as “zhulin” or “bamboo wood”, which posited that people should work in harmony with the natural world and that the study of strict Confucianism destroyed this harmony. Thus it gradually became apparent that xuanxue represented the polar opposite of traditional Confucianism.

Yet, when it came to xuanxue, Confucius was regarded not simply as a great teacher but also as an enlightened sage. It was posited that Confucius had come to recognise the ultimate reality, but had chosen not to mention it is his teachings because it could not be expressed in words. This concept of Confucius’ “hidden saintliness” and the idea that he had an understanding of the world’s great mysteries would eventually play a huge part in Buddhist philosophy.

TaositSo, while Confucianism appeared to be in a kind of spiritual hibernation, renewed interest was placed on Buddhism and Taoism. During the Han Dynasty, the suppression of various Taoist movements had left the religion fractured and it survived only in the form of small religious communities. Local Taoist masters became formidable social figures, as their charisma and spiritual significance gave them great power over the communities that they served. Thus the religion posed a major threat to the ruling government, as Taoist masters’ could radicalise their followers at a moment’s notice. This is the major reason why, unlike Buddhism, imperial courts rarely patronised Taoist communities, as they were believed to be unpredictable and anarchic.

Not only was it lacking in imperial support, but it seemed Taoism also had a fearsome adversary hot on its heels. Communal Taoist ceremonies, with their deafening music and fanatic fasting, were particularly objectionable to Buddhists because they were considered ecstatic and bordered on orgiastic. Not to mention the fact that they allowed women to take part, something unheard of in both Buddhist and Confucian tradition. The structural and doctrinal similarities between the two religions meant that people often conflated the two, which resulted in Buddhism spreading widely off of the back of Taoism’s popularity. Yet, in spite of these similarities, proponents of Buddhism and Taoism were bitterly opposed to one another.

mogao caves 02However, it was Buddhism that came out on top. From the 4th century onwards, this foreign religion gradually rose to become one of the major faiths in the country. The popularity of xuanxue greatly contributed to this, as the emphasis on complex philosophies and scholarly debate was a common factor between both schools of thought. Another potential reason for the religion’s popularity was the security that it offered. In an era devastated by war and rebellion, adopting the monastic life meant that even peasants could escape heavy taxation, enforced labour, relocation, and military conscription. At that time, pursuing an official career was riddled with corruption and danger, so many members of the gentry also opted to “take the cloth”, so to speak. Buddhist monasteries therefore became a place of equality, where everyone could enjoy a cultured and educated life regardless of their social standing.

During the Sixteen Kingdoms Period (303-439), the tribal warlords who had taken over the north of China were strongly attracted to Buddhism, mainly due to the magical powers associated with Buddhist ritual. They had practical reasons for this preference as well, since Chinese ministers, who had ties to various clan members, were less politically reliable than unattached and unmarried Buddhist masters. These rulers proved to be some of the religion’s greatest patrons. It was thanks to them that the Mogao Caves, the Maijishan Grottoes, the Bingling Temple Grottoes, and many of the grottoes within the Hexi Corridor were constructed and developed.

Lantingji XuAside from this abundance of Buddhist art, arguably the most notable event of the dynasty was the emergence of the calligrapher Wang Xizhi. His Lantingji Xu is considered the most valuable work of Chinese calligraphy, in spite of the fact that the original copy was lost during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Although the Jin Dynasty may have been a time of political insecurity and violent warfare, it was also one characterised by great cultural progression in literature, art, philosophy, and religion. Along with the subsequent Northern and Southern Dynasties Period, it constituted one of the most creative periods in Chinese history. So, when it comes to the age old question: War, what is it good for? The answer is cultural change and artistic innovation, apparently.


Qinqiang Opera

Qinqiang opera is widely considered to be the forefather of all styles of Chinese opera. In ancient times, it was originally just called Qin opera and nowadays it is also known as Luantan opera, meaning “random pluck” or “strumming” opera. The name “Qin” derives from the fact that Qinqiang opera dates all the way back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) and its heritage stretches back over 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest forms of opera in China. This style of opera first originated from the folk songs of Shaanxi province and Gansu province, and eventually made its way to Beijing, where it heavily influenced the incredibly popular Peking opera.

As a style, it was refined during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and was officially acknowledged as a style of opera by the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It went through a secondary period of refinement and maturation during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and, by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it had spread throughout China. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), there were over 36 Qinqiang troupes in the city of Xi’an alone. Supposedly Qinqiang opera started in the fields and farms of the northwestern provinces, when locals would shout to one another from across the fields. Eventually these locals developed a system of shouted songs to communicate with one another and this is where Qinqiang derives its distinctive “shouted out” style of singing. Thanks to this unusual singing style, Qinqiang opera is considered one of the “ten strange wonders of Shaanxi province”.

Qinqiang Opera 02Along with this shouted style of singing, Qinqiang opera also incorporates bangzi[1] melodies. These are one of China’s Four Great Characteristic Melodies and Qinqiang is one of the most significant styles of Bangzi opera around today. The opera will usually be accompanied by several instruments, the most important of which is the banhu[2]. The banhu is either strummed or plucked, which is what earned this style of opera the name Luantan or “Random Pluck” opera. The characteristic arias of Qinqiang opera are deep, loud, piercing and bold, with singing of an impressively high pitch. There are two main types of arias in this style of opera: huanyin (joyous tunes) and kunyin (sad tunes). Though the huanyin are magnificent, the kunyin are widely considered to be the most hauntingly beautiful.

Qinqiang was one of the earliest forms of opera to focus on the expression of human emotion. Its use of exaggerated, stylised movements and facial expressions to imply actions, emotions, and events has been replicated in numerous other successive styles of opera. Most Qinqiang operas depict stories of ancient wars of resistance against foreign invaders, battles between good and evil, and the struggle against feudal oppression. They were designed to reflect the honesty, bravery and diligence of the common people of Northwest China.

There are 13 character types in Qinqiang opera. These include four kinds of sheng or male characters, six kinds of dan or female characters, two kinds of jing or painted face characters, and one kind of chou or clown character. There are four major genres of Qinqiang opera, and this is predominantly due to the different dialects and folk music in the areas in which they were developed. Qinqiang is not just about the singing; it is a complete performance art and incorporates dancing, acrobatics and martial arts into every performance. Perhaps the most famous characteristic of Qinqiang is its style of fire-breathing, which has been copied in other successive styles of opera. Watching a performer in traditional dress breathe fire across the stage is a truly enthralling spectacle. The “hat dance” is another unique performance skill of Qinqiang opera, where performers will make a hat or object appear to dance on their head. Originally there were upwards of 10,000 Qinqiang works that were widely popular throughout China, of which only 4,700 remain. The Ghost’s Hate, Down the East River (下河东), The Golden Qilin or The Golden Unicorn (金麒麟), and The Port of Jiujiang (九江口) are just a handful of examples.

Unfortunately, since the 1980s the declining popularity of Chinese opera means that the tradition of Qinqiang opera has gradually started to disappear. However, many opera performers, opera enthusiasts, and government officials are committed to the preservation of this fine cultural art. In 2006 it was listed as a National Intangible World Heritage by the Chinese government and since then measures, such as government stipends for Qinqiang opera troupes and free tuition for anyone choosing to train in Qinqiang opera, have helped bolster the prevalence and popularity of this style of opera. There is now even a Qinqiang Opera Museum in Lanzhou, Gansu.

[1] Bangzi: A Chinese woodblock percussion instrument. Traditionally, two bangzi were used to keep the main tune during an opera, like a primitive form of metronome. Now the term bangzi or bangziqiang is widely used to refer to a type of melody used in Chinese opera.

[2] Banhu: A Chinese bowed stringed instrument. The soundbox is traditionally made from a coconut shell and the rest is made from wood. They have two strings.


Hakka Performance

Hakka Performance

The Hakka people have become known for a type of folk song known as Hakka Hill Songs. These rural songs are sung exclusively in the Hakka language and many of them are over 1,000 years old! Originally they were designed as a method of communication over distance. Since the Hakka people mostly live in mountainous regions, singing was a better means of communication than the spoken word because the higher pitch of sound would carry further. Some people even believe that in the past they were used as a method of flirtation between young men and women. So next time your mobile phone has no signal, just try singing instead!

The theme of the songs can vary from love to personal etiquette, although some focus on more sombre topics such as hard work and poverty. Nowadays many Hakka Hill Songs are improvised on the spot and convey a specific message or express the singer’s feelings. The lyrics may also contain puzzles as a way to entertain or challenge the listener. Other singers will then answer the puzzle in the form of another song with a similar tune. Guangdong’s Meixian Prefecture is home to many Hakka people and they frequently hold Hakka Hill Song competitions, where they invite competitors from across China to participate in battles of wit and melody!



Dong Birth Customs


The birth of a child is a momentous occasion in a Dong village and requires strict adherence to many conventions. The first is the “stepping-over-the-threshold” convention, which is the belief that the first person to enter the house where the child was born will be the greatest influence on its personality and future success. After this person is established, neighbours are invited to the house to bring gifts. The birth is then announced to the mother’s family and, on the third day, female relatives will visit with more gifts.

Dong CradleAfter the visitations from friends and relatives, a ceremony called “building the bridge” is practised, where three wooden planks are lined up side by side to symbolise a bridge and express goodwill to people passing by the house. The child’s hands are then wrapped in cloth, which the Dong believe will influence the child not to steal things later in life. The child’s first haircut and first taste of fermented rice happens when they are about one month old, and it is considered unlucky if these events happen prior to the one month mark. At six months old, the child will have their first taste of meat dipped in wine, which is considered a major milestone in the child’s life.


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Dong Marriage Customs

dong minority

In Dong culture, courtship traditionally takes place in three stages. The first stage, known as the early meeting phase, is when the man and the woman will sing songs and recite poems to one another as part of a group. The second stage, known as the deepening love phase, is when the man and woman single one another out so their interaction is on a one-to-one basis and the songs are more spontaneous. The final phase, known as the exchange of a token phase, is when the man offers the women a token of his affection and the woman is expected to make excuses to test the persistence of her suitor. This token is usually a small gift that has little monetary value but it is incredibly symbolically important, as it is the Dong equivalent of offering the woman an engagement ring.

dong love01

Dong weddings normally last three days and begin in the bride’s family home. After the ceremony in the bride’s home, the bride is transported to the groom’s home, where the groom’s family will host an afternoon reception and an all-night feast. The following day, the guests take part in the “block the horse” ceremony, where the hosts block the village gate whilst singing songs. In Liping region, traditionally the bride continues to live at her parents’ home until she gives birth to her first child. Thereafter she will live with her husband permanently. In some Dong communities, the bride will living with her family after the wedding for a couple of years, since many Dong women get married when they are still very young. The family’s silver jewellery will usually be passed onto the bride by the mother after she is married.

dong wedding01
Dong people were going for a wedding, with their gifts.


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Dong Ethnic Minority Spirituality


The Dong people are polytheistic and most of their religious beliefs revolve around animism. Animism is the spiritual belief that non-human entities, such as animals, plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena, possess a spiritual essence. The Dong people also worship their ancestors and a few mythical shared ancestor figures such as Song Sang, Song En, Zhang Liang, and Zhang Mei.

Dong deities tend to be based around buildings, natural elements or sacred natural phenomena, such as the two fire spirits, one of which is good and one of which is evil, the spirits of the sky and the earth, the bridge goddess, and the spirits of thunder and lightning. The most important deity in Dong mythology is known as Sa Sui and she is thought to be one of the original land goddesses. Other deities associated with more abstract concepts include the god who banishes evil, the love god, who consists of five male gods, and the family prosperity gods. Snakes are particularly important in Dong religion as they are believed to be the progenitors of their ancient ancestors.

Dong people believe in religious totems, usually in the form of turtles, dragons or snakes, and in divination, using rice grains, bamboo roots, snails, and chicken bones for this purpose. Other spiritual practices include: rituals, such as dragon dances and fire prevention ceremonies; sorcery, which is used to repel evil spirits, recover the soul of a disturbed child, exact revenge on enemies or induce someone to fall in love; and shamanism, which plays a predominantly holistic medicinal role.


There are also many cultural taboos in Dong culture, many of which relate to pregnant women. For example, pregnant women should not participate in marriage ceremonies or arrangements, visit sick acquaintances, sacrifice to gods, or watch new houses being built. Unmarried Dong men should not eat pigs’ feet, as they have cleft hooves, metal should not be placed in coffins, as departed souls fear metal objects, and the lusheng[1] should not be played between the sowing and transplanting of rice seedlings, as it may attract a plague of insects. These are but a few of many taboos that the Dong people adhere to.


[1] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.


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Langdeshang Village

Langdeshang Village, or Langde Upper Village, is an archetypal Miao village in Leishan County, Guizhou, located about 30 kilometres outside of Kaili City. It has become famous throughout China for its peaceful natural atmosphere, friendly locals and rich cultural heritage. There are only 500 villagers living in Langdeshang and all of them come from only ten different family lines. Although it is generally considered a small village, in many ways it is as impressive as the mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years. Langdeshang’s popularity stems from the fact that the locals, with their bright smiles and kind eyes, are eager to share this cultural heritage with anyone who visits their village.

As Langdeshang is located at the foot of a mountain, the village is made up of Diaojiaolou, which are typical Miao buildings that are held up by wooden stilts and are between two to three storeys high. The front of the building is supported by pillars whilst the rear of the building is suspended on stilts that keep it level with the mountainside. These buildings are an architectural wonder, as oftentimes they have been built without the use of any nails or rivets. They are held together by means of a system of wooden joints, which lock together perfectly and give the structure stability. All of these Diaojiaolou will have been built by local carpenters and made from wood cut from the surrounding fir trees. The women in Langdeshang wear long skirts and so are often referred to as “long skirt Miao”.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. The rich green grass, the gentle chirping of the birds and the soft rays of the sun setting over the hills come together to create a wonderfully soothing atmosphere. There are five “flower roads” that lead into the village and three wooden gatehouses, or village gates, at the northern, western and eastern entrances to the village. These roads are paved with smooth blue flagstones or rippling cobbles that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque.

On arrival at Langdeshang, visitors will be greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony. Beautiful young local girls will arrive, adorned in their traditional dress, and “block the way” of the village gate. Twelve tables will be set up in the middle of the path that leads into the village. At each table, the visitors will be met with two young locals in their traditional dress. These two locals will propose a toast and the visitors must drink two bowls of “block-the-way” wine. Once they’ve reached the final table, the toast will be made with a huge bull horn that has been filled with “block-the-way” wine. However, if you plan on visiting Langdeshang but don’t want to drink too much of this wine, there’s no need to worry! All you need to do is put your hands behind your back, bend forward a little, touch the cup with your lip, and say “dousemo”, which is the Miao word for “thank you”. That way you can pass the table and move on to the next one without having to drink any wine and without causing offence. The villagers are very friendly and will not make any visitors drink if they don’t want to.

Once the toasts are complete, the villagers will set off firecrackers, play the mangtong[1], and sing the song called “Toasting the Guests”. The guests are then led to the lusheng[2] ground, where the men will play the lusheng and the young villagers will perform traditional dances. Eventually, all of the villagers will participate in the dance and the guests will be invited to join in! Imagine drinking the smooth wine, revelling in the traditional dance and then settling down at dusk, strolling around the quiet village and taking in the sultry air. We’re sure you’ll agree that Langdeshang is a truly magical place and definitely worth a visit.

[1] Mangtong: A Chinese wind instrument. It is composed of a bamboo pipe without finger holes that is fitted with a metal free reed and then placed in a larger bamboo resonator. They come in varying sizes, with the largest being up to 2 metres in length. One mangtong can only produce a single pitch, so normally several are played together.

[2] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

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Chinese New Year

chinese new year Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival) is the most important festival among all Chinese communities, with the history of over 3,000 years. Literally speaking, Chinese New Year is the first day according to Chinese Lunar calendar. However, the celebration is generally from the 23rd December (Chinese Lunar calendar) till the Lantern Festival (15th January according to Chinese Lunar calendar). The New Year’s Eve and the New Year Day are the highlights of the celebration.

year cakeDuring Chinese New Year period, a red Fu character (means happiness)is displayed on many entrances of Chinese home. The character is hanging upside down, because of the Chinese word dao (倒 means hanging upside down) has the same pronunciation of dao (到 means arrive). It symbolise the arrival of happiness.

The whole family come together to have dinner in the New Year’s Eve, which is called ‘Tuan Yuan Fan’ (团圆饭). Apart from various tasteful dishes, there are several kinds of special food play the main role in the dinner. Generally speaking, in the north of China, dumplings appear as the main course in every home in New Year’s Eve. Some big families begin to make dumplings just after lunch. However, in south of China, people have year cake (nian gao) or Tangyuan instead of dumplings.

new year marketFireworks bring more colour to the festival. During the New Year period, fireworks are shown almost every night, and firecracker bans’ appearance is more often. All the show before the New Year’s Eve is just the prelude, the sky of New Year’ Eve night is the big stage for firework. It seems like an endless show with endless sound. New Year greeting is the key word in the New Year Day. From morning to afternoon, people keep on going to say “Happy New Year” to all relatives and neighbours.  It is the happy day to children. They not only can wear new clothes, but also receive the “red envelope” from the married senior relatives. Cash is put inside the “red envelop”.

yanggeTraditionally, there will be markets or village fairs (miaohui 庙会) in the following days till the Lantern Festival, which is similar with the Christmas markets in Europe. In north China, people have Yangge (秧歌 Chinese folk dance) show, while in south china they enjoy different kinds of local opera performance.

The Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in China, most Southeast Asian countries also have this festival, such as Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and some parts of Thailand and Indonesia.

The Temple of the God of Agriculture

The Temple of the God (Creator) of Agriculture was the site of imperial sacrifices dedicated to the cult of Shennong, the Holy Farmer. It is located in the southern part of the city, directly to the west of the Temple of Heaven, and occupies a total area of three-square kilometres.

According to ancient Chinese legend, there were three wise kings, referred to as Fu Xi, Shennong and Suiren. Fu Xi was the ruler of greatest antiquity, credited with the invention of hunting and fishing and the domestication of animals; Shennong was the second ruler and he was supposed to have invented the plough and discovered the curative properties of certain plants. Suiren was the third legendary ruler and he supposedly discovered fire.

According to the rites of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), on the day of the Vernal Equinox, as fixed by the lunar calendar, the emperor would come to this altar to make a sacrifice to the sacred tablet of Shennong. Following this ceremony, the emperor would plough several furrows of land with his own hands. These would be the first furrows ploughed in that year. Then the emperor would go back to the observation platform to watch the princes, ministers and a representative group of ordinary people finish the task.