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About This Festival

The DaShuHua Tree Flower Festival is a spectacular alternative to the traditional fireworks that marks the 15th and final day of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities. It's all part of an ancient tradition in the town of NuanQuan (pop. 17,000), approximately four hours' drive west of Beijing.

With little more than a hat and a sheepskin coat for protection, a small team of farmers spoon molten hot metal from buckets before hurling it at a purpose-built brick wall. The rapidly cooling metal rains down in fountains of brightly glowing shards resulting in an impressive pyrotechnic display, which is locally called DaShuHua (beating the tree to produce flowers).

The Poor Man's Fireworks

Around 300 years ago, there were many blacksmith shops in the farming town of NuanQuan. During Chinese New Year , it is a tradition to let off fireworks in an effort to scare off demons during the lantern festival. While the wealthy would buy fireworks, the blacksmiths and farmers couldn’t afford them. Inspired by the sparks emitted during their iron working, a group of brave blacksmiths one year decided to splash molten metal on the city walls, creating beautiful flower shapes from the cooling iron.

As the years passed, the locals came to prefer the DaShuHua to the fireworks, donating their scrap metals each year for the blacksmiths to use during the performance. By experimenting with different types of metal, the performers are now able to create a multi-colored array of flowers, improving on the original red. At first, only iron was used for the performance, but copper and aluminum have since been added to produce green and white flowers.

Despite being a centuries old tradition, there are now only four DaShuHua performers left, all of whom are local farmers. It has been said, “The rich play with firecrackers and the poor perform DaShuHua.”

The festival was banned during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse Tung from 1966 to 1976. Those who took part ran the risk of being arrested. Anyone who took part was branded as a cow monster or snake demon (derogatory terms used to condemn people during the period).

Faced with low profits from the fields, villages across China are turning to ancient crafts and festivals as a way to draw visitors and generate income. This influx of money and interest has enabled organizers to build a dedicated ShuHua square for the performance. A large stage holds folk dances and performances against the background of a 10 meter X 30 meter city wall.

Let's Heat Things Up

While the molten metal is being prepared, dancers perform a variety of traditional and folk dances on stage. When the performances are over and the metal is ready, the ShuHua performers make their way into the spotlight. The hour-long performance begins in the evening at around 7pm before a crowd of around 1,500 frozen spectators. With temperatures dropping to -15 degrees C (5 F) the wait is not a pleasant one, even if you have multiple layers of clothing.

Due to the danger posed by the molten iron, only the bravest men perform in the show. The only barriers between the molten iron and the throwers are a sheepskin jacket, goggles, and a straw hat to protect against the splash of hot metal. The wooden ladles are soaked in water for three days before the show to prevent them from combusting on impact. As the ladles dip into the molten iron, flames shoot up instantly, so the men work quickly to splash the molten iron onto the city wall. As the metal strikes the cold, hard wall, it explodes into a shower of sparks, mostly over the performers. The incredible scene is met with loud applause from the audience. With every ladle of hot metal the roars grow louder and the night sky glows bright under the light of the fire flowers.

The wooden ladles used by the performers of DaShuHua are about an inch thick and when placed into the 1,000 degree C (1800 F) hot metal, a thin layer of black charcoal quickly forms on the surface of the ladle helping to prevent it from being destroyed. At the conclusion of the performance, members of the audience scramble to purchase one of the ladles to take home as a souvenir.

The New Year finale is the farmers’ last chance to enjoy their break before they step out of the spotlight and back into the fields for another year. At the completion of the festival, be sure to discover more about this quaint little town. With architecture dating back to 916AD, NuanQuan is the only Chinese Historical and Cultural Town in HeBei Province. The fortress of Xi Gubu offers a great chance to enjoy a taste of the town's cultural heritage. Both large and small temples have survived for hundreds of years and are still in full operation today.

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