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Ethnic Minority Festivals in China

2016-02-29 10:23:34Share:

  Brief Introduction


  China is a large country with 55 ethnic minorities. Because of the differences in living environments, history and customs, characteristic festivals are held by the ethnic groups besides the Spring Festival and Mid-autumn Festivalthat the Han Chinese celebrate. All these traditional ethnic minority festivals are regarded as indispensable components of the minorities' customs.


  It is estimated that more than 1,200 of the 1,700 Chinese festivals belong to the ethnic minorities. Each of them is based on its own origin or legend, and a single festival can also have different origins. Some of them are related to religions and beliefs, such as the Corban and Kaizhai Festival, whereas others are linked to entertainment activities, such as the Nadam Fair of Mongolia and the Tibetan New Year.


  Some of the ethnic minority festivals are so grand and influential that they attract spectators from far away. The following are some of the representative ones:


  Adult Ceremony of Jino - the etiquette with the most national characteristics


  Date: 15th birthday for girls and 16th for boys


  Place: Yunnan Province


  Activities: The Adult Ceremony, held upon a girl of the Jino ethnic minority reaching fifteen years old or a boy sixteen. To the Jino people, the ceremony is of such great importance as it indicates the transition from childhood into adulthood with both clothing and hairstyles are changed to indicate this fact.


  When an Adult Ceremony is held, cattle are slaughtered to honor the ancestor. Two pouches of beef wrapped in the leaf of Japanese banana are placed before the youth and traditional epics are sung lead by the elders. Also at this time traditions, customs, moralities, etiquettes and some manufacturing skills of the Jino are passed on at this time, along with a set of laboring tools to the young boys. It is said that youths having attended the ceremony enjoy the right to love, and must take part in some youth organizations from where they can learn the codes of their villages.


  March Fair of Bai - the biggest merchandise trading pageant


  Date: 15th to 21st day of the third lunar month


  Place: Yunnan Province


  Activities: Held at the foot of Mt.Cangshan in Dali, Yunnan Province, the March Fair is the traditional grand event forBai ethnic minority and is renowned as a pageant for trading merchandise. Originally held for reciting the lections and offering sacrifice to Kwan-yin (a female Bodhisattva), it has now become a thriving fair that tens of thousands people from different regions attend.


  In the fair, all kinds of merchandises are available such as medicinal ingredients, teas, livestock, and other goods for daily use. Besides, Street for Foreigners and Street of Local Foods are also set up offering even more unique crafts and delicious foods to tempt and delight visitors. Not only can people trade goods with each other, the fair is also full of rich and colorful activities including singing, dancing, horse races, wrestling, flowers show and so on.


  Nadam Fair of the Mongolian


  Date: Between July and August every year


  Place: Inner Mongolia


  Activities: Nadam means 'entertainment or game' in Mongolian and Nadam Fair is the annual traditional pageant for Mongolians held in summer during which period the grass is green and the livestock stout and strong. In history, Nadam Fair was held for large-scale sacrificial activities and to pray for blessings from Manito. Now, activities like wrestling, horseracing, and archery (the three skills all Mongolian men should master) are the primary role of the fair. Besides, track and field sports, tug-of-war, basketball and volleyball matches are relatively new additions making the fair even more interesting. The fair finishes with a bonfire party during the night when the young people singing and dancing.


  End of Ramadan


  Date: the beginning of the tenth month on the Islamic calendar


  Place: Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Xinjiang and Gansu Provinces etc.


  Activities: According to the Islamic calendar, the ninth month is the fasting month of Ramadan. During this month, every Muslim must eat breakfast before sunrise. Food and water are not allowed until after sunset. After 29 or 30 days of fasting comes the traditional End of Ramadan Festival which lasts three days from the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar.


  On the first day of the festival, houses are cleaned in the early morning. Muslims will go to mosques to pray toward Mekka (halidom of Islamism) after bathing. No matter what kind of weather, Muslims must perform this ritual. Visiting the graves of ancestors to mourn for them is also a must. Traditional festival food is prepared along with rich and colorful activities such as the lion dance, wrestling etc.


  Corban Festival


  Date: the tenth day of the twelfth month on the Islamic calendar


  Place: Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Province and Gansu Province etc.


  Activities: Held mainly by the Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Uzbek, Tajik, Tatar,Kirgiz, Salar, Dongxiang, and Bonan minority groups, the Korban or 'Zaisheng Festival' is one of the most important annual events. Before daybreak, houses are thoroughly cleaned, and different kinds of traditional cakes are made. On the day of this festival, Muslims don neat clothes after bath in the morning and then go to the mosque of which the scale is the grandest.


  Livestock such as sheep, camel, and ox are slaughtered to present to relatives, friends, and guests. The name of 'Zaisheng Festival' is given. Besides, people gather together to eat mutton, cakes, fruits and other delicious food while chatting with each other. Activities differ according to different minority groups. Singing and dancing assemblies are held among the Uygur in Xinjiang Province. Activities like horseracing and wrestling are held among the Kazak, Uzbek, Tajik and Kirgiz minorities. No matter what the method of celebration, the day of Corban festival is full of interests and delight.


  Water-Splashing Festival of Dai - the most influential feast in Yunnan Province


  Date: 14th to 16th of April (24th to 26th day of the sixth month of the Dai calendar)


  Place: Yunnan Province


  Activities: Regarded as the New Year of Dai ethnic minority, it is the traditional occasion for Dai and the most influential feast in Yunnan Province. Before the festival, pigs and chickens are slaughtered and wines are brewed with other foods also being prepared beforehand. During the three days of the festival, rich and colorful activities are held. Dragon boat racing and other performances such as Peacock dance are held on the first day followed by the characteristic water-splashing event on the second day. The last day is usually for the young people to play games as a way of expressing their love for each other.


  Usually held by the banks of the picturesque Lancang River (one of the main rivers of southwest China), girls of Dai ethnic minority dip branches into the river and sprinkle the water onto others as a way to express their best wishes at the beginning. The climax of the water-splashing activity is when the people of the different ethnic groups attending it and splash water upon each other, using basins and buckets. Although all the people are soaked to the skin, all participants are happy.


  Torch Festival of Yi - the most ceremonious minority dance


  Date: 24th to 26th day of the sixth lunar month


  Place: Sichuan Province


  Activities: Recognized as the grandest traditional festival of the Yi ethnic minority, it is full of rich and colorful activities. Worshiping ancestors, visiting relatives and friends to convey their best wishes are the main events of the first day. Bull and sheep fighting, horse racing, cockfighting, singing competition, beauty contest, wrestling and tug-of-wars etc. are held on the second day allowing everyone to compete and play to their heart content.


  The climax comes in the evening of the third day, large bonfires are lit while people sit, sing, and dance around them the whole night. In the eyes of the Yi, the torch symbolizes happiness and chasteness and brings good luck to the people. Because the festival is of such a frantic and ardent atmosphere, people from other countries refer to it as 'the Carnival with Chinese Characteristics'.


  Knife-Pole Festival of Lisu - the most breathtaking minority gala


  Date: 2nd day of the second lunar month, usually in March.


  Place: Yunnan Province


  Activities: As a traditional gala of Lisu ethnic minority, the Knife-Pole Festival expresses good wishes to everyone of the Lisu. A phrase describing bravery in China goes like this, 'climbing the Knife Mountain and diving into the Fire Sea' and the Knife-Pole Festival is a vivid depiction of this. On the eve of the festival, a grand bonfire is set alight with people dancing around it, later, some of the bolder men leap in the fire, extinguishing it barefooted. It is widely believed that through this act all manner of disasters will be averted.


  In the middle of the 2nd day of the second lunar month, the other activity, which represents 'climbing the Knife Mountain' is the highlight of the festival and attracts numerous spectators. 20-meter-high poles, each affixed with 72 razor sharp knives are erected. After drinking a cup of wine, the warriors begin to ascend the pole via the sharpened blades. Upon reaching to the top, they are rewarded with impassioned applauses, whilst they light firecrackers and throw small red flags to the crowds, showering good luck upon everyone. The remainder of the day is for the young, throwing pouches to each other to show love. Nowadays, climbing poles via knives as rungs is recognized as the traditional sport of the Lisu people.


  Bullfight Festival of Miao - the most famous bullfight activity


  Date: 25th day of the first lunar month


  Place: Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces


  Activities: The Miao ethnic minority people are primarily farmers and have come to regard cattle as an indispensable ally, assisting them in all aspects of their daily lives. When the traditional Bullfight Festival comes, hosts feed their cattle well, even giving them wine in the hope that they will perform well. The event is usually held on an even meadow with the Miao people being well dressed on this auspicious occasion.


  There are several alternative bullfights: two bulls and up to several bulls fighting etc. When two fight with each other, the result is usually determined within three to five minutes' fierce combat. However, it is only in the last round that decides which Bull is the winner; it may last more than half an hour. During the fight, audiences around the meadow shout loudly making the festival immersive in a fiery scene. Red silk sashes and flowers adorn the first prize bull with food being the Bulls reward. With bonfires being lit within the bullfighting ring whilst the young men play Lusheng (a homemade reed mouth organ with five or six pipes, played by various ethnic groups in southwest China) girls dance for the whole night. By holding the Bullfight Festival, Miao hope for a favorable harvest in the coming year and good health.

The Imperial Gardens