The June Festival in Tongren (Shaman Festival)

“A mysterious local festival known for its fascinating “gruesome” customs

According to legend, the land was once plagued by venomous snakes and fearsome beasts. One day, a giant bird, known as Peng in Chinese, flew to the region and defeated all of these dangerous creatures, thus ridding the land of a terrible blight. It turns out that the winged savior was actually a god known as Xiaqiong, so every year people in this area host the June Festival in honour of this beneficent deity.

This traditional folk festival is celebrated widely among the Tibetan and Tu ethnic minority communities in Regong (Tongren) of Qinghai province. Held every year between the 17th and 25th day of the sixth lunar month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, it has been an integral part of the festival calendar for over 1,400 years.

Only young men and unmarried young women are allowed to actively participate in the festival, but children and married women are allowed to watch and dance together during the end of the ceremony. 

Throughout this magnificent festival, the local people pray for a good harvest, peace, prosperity, and a happy life. Many sacred ceremonies can be seen during the festival, such as: Shang Kou Qian, where the master of ceremonies uses two steel pins to pierce the cheeks of a volunteer; Shang Bei Qian, where the master of ceremonies uses between 10 to 20 steel pins to pierce a volunteer’s back; and Kai Shan, where the master of ceremonies makes a small mark on his own forehead using a knife and then ceremonially sprinkles a few drops of his own blood on the surrounding ground. Many people regard these ceremonies as having an air of magic about them, since the steel pins that the master of ceremonies uses never seem to draw blood and do not leave a scar on the volunteers.

Alongside these holy rituals, the entire festival is conducted by the master of ceremonies, who will either be a shaman or the head of the local religion. During the festival, women will assemble at the Mountain-Gods Hall, where they will sing and dance to appease the God of the Mountain. 

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