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Uniquely Yuxian

By Liu Zhihua (China Daily)

09:55, July 19, 2012

Melted iron turns into a shower of sparks in a dashuhua performance in Yuxian. Photos Provided to China Daily

It is no wonder UNESCO has recognized paper-cutting works in the county as an intangible cultural heritage, according to Liu Zhihua, in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.

If you are tired of the city, a visit to Yuxian in Zhangjiakou city, Hebei province, is a refreshing change, especially for those interested in cultural heritage.

My first stop is Nuanquan town, which literally means "warm spring", and refers to a river that runs through it and never freezes, even in winter.

Located in the western part of Yuxian, Nuanquan is thought to have been inhabited up to 20,000 years ago.

It is the only Historical and Cultural Town in Hebei province, designated by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Most of its well-preserved courtyards were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

As I walk under the high walls of the well preserved Xigubu, or West Ancient Fort, I understand why the town has become such a popular filmmaking location.

In its 210 courtyards, there are time-honored buildings, antique furniture, farm tools, but few tourists.

I also come across dashuhua, or traditional spraying iron craftsmanship.

Legend has it that in ancient times, blacksmiths in Nuanquan used to throw hot melted iron against the cold walls during Lantern Festival. When the metal struck the walls, it exploded into a shower of sparks to scare demons away.

The tradition has remained for more than 300 years but now has become a kind of performance for tourists.

When folk dance performances end during the evenings in Shuhua Square, dashuhua takes place.

Performers wear sheepskin coats and a hat, and quickly throw the melted metal with a soaked wooden ladle.

Traditional paper-cutting is another craft that thrives in the town. Locals claim Yuxian is home to the country's best paper-cutting works.

Paper-cutting shops are everywhere I go and are a feast for the eyes, in the largest paper-cutting market in the west part of downtown.

The market is newly established on a street that takes less than 10 minutes to walk around. But the paper-cuttings in the two-story stores are so engaging, it's easy to spend a whole afternoon browsing.

Yuxian's paper-cutting works are unique. Most of them are not symmetrical, and many have a variety of colors. They look more like paintings or photos.

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