Traditional Shehuo performed across China to celebrate Lantern Festival

08:23, February 18, 2011      

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The Lantern Festival is a date marking the end of the 15-day Spring Festival, normally celebrated with performances of Shehuo, or traditional Chinese songs and dances across the country.

In a small county named Barkol in far west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Rehat Mathan, a 42-year old gardener, enjoyed a performance of the Shehuo.

This year, he and his eight colleagues watched a dance called "Dachunniu", or "lashing the cattle in the spring". "Dachunniu," which is meant to encourage farmers and cattle to work hard next year, has been a traditional part of the activities for the Han people. People would hold an ox statue and dance and scatter gifts during the Shehuo parade. The nine dancers were all Kazak, and this is the sixth year Mathan has performed this dance during the Shehuo.

"It is fun. I fell in love with the performance of Shehuo when I was a kid and I first saw the parade during the Lantern Festival," he said. While the nine Kazak men carried an 80-kilogram ox statue and danced, a crowd that had gathered to enjoy the fun were amused by their clumsy steps.

"Kazaks are all good dancers and singers." Mathan explained, "but this dance is a little harder for us. Our dance is more casual." Then he started to perform the Kazak traditional dance of "Heizouma". Ahti, another dancer, sang to Mathan's performance. Soon, the passionate dance heated up the rehearsal site. A crowd gathered and other dancers joined in the performance.

Xu Jianliang, organizer of the Barkol Shehuo performance, said Barolo is a county with many ethnic minorities in the Barkol grassland.

"Kazak, Mongolian and Han people all participated in the activity with their special traditional performances, which date back for years," he said. "Maybe there is no other place in China where you can witness such diversified shows of Shehuo."

The Chinese Lunar New Year, which is also called the Spring Festival, literally means a festival for spring. Mathan told Xinhua that spring is also an important season for Kazak. "The herdsmen are to celebrate the birth of lambs."

Wang Yuelin's hometown is Jinzhong, a city in north China's Shanxi Province, which was dubbed "the birth place of Shehuo". On the day of the Lantern Festival, Wang and his family went back to his hometown to celebrate the festival.

"We will drive about half an hour from Taiyuan, Shanxi's capital, to watch the fair. It is good for my kid to learn more about the traditional Chinese New Year," Wang said, adding that lantern shows and guessing games were the traditional ways of celebrations there. Local people wish that the fun and happiness of the fair can last the whole year, which is why they call Shehuo "Naohonghuo", which literally means a ceremony for a prosperous and happy year. "In the new year, I want to learn something about the stock market," he said. "Maybe I could earn more money buying stocks."

"Shanxi is famous for the performance of Shehuo," said Zhang Zhengming,director of the Shanxi Provincial Research Center for Merchant Culture. "The flourishing of merchants during the Ming and Qing dynasties brought prosperity to the province, giving more importance to festive celebrations."

Zhang told Xinhua that because merchants went to areas like Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia to do business, they brought the culture of Shehuo to those regions as well. The night before the lantern festival, Li Yuelin from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region accompanied his father and mother to watch the lantern show.

They wound around the "Jiuqu" lantern array, which looked like a lantern in the shape of a maze. Chinese people believe that those who have walked through this maze will live to be 99 years old.

"I will be back to Shenzhen for work after the Lantern Festival. At the end of New Year celebration, by walking in 'Jiuqu' with my parents, I hope they both can live long and be healthy," said Li.

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