Local celebrations add color to Chinese New Year
By Li Qing  ·  2024-02-05  ·   Source: NO.7-8 FEBRUARY 15, 2024
Products exhibited or on sale at the Spring Festival Market in Sanjianfang Village, located in Daxing District in Beijing. The market was a part of the village gala that ran from January 30 to February 5 (COURTESY PHOTO)

A folk art troupe from Bomi County in Nyingchi, Xizang Autonomous Region, dazzled audiences at the village gala, or cunwan, held in Sanjianfang Village in Beijing's Daxing District from January 30 to February 5. The troupe arrived in Beijing on January 30. Over the next four days, they performed the Reba dance, a traditional drum and bell dance.

Reba dance originated in Xizang in the 11th century, and the dance is said to be able to help people live in harmony with one another. During the show, dancers in colorful clothes hang large drums from their waists, wave their drumsticks and move back and forward with powerful rhythms.

The highlight of the Bomi version of the Reba dance is that it includes crosstalk, a traditional form of entertaining dialogue, in addition to the regular recitation, singing and acrobatics, according to Xuan Guiqing, deputy director of the county's culture and tourism bureau.

"Our members were selected and trained by local farmers, who are elated about promoting Bomi's rich culture to audiences in Beijing," she told Beijing Review, adding that dancing in Beijing gave many of them their first opportunity to visit the capital.

In addition to folk performances from Xizang, visitors also enjoyed a variety of other cultural performances every day during the village gala, including pingshu storytelling and Peking Opera shows. Villagers from Sanjianfang also took part by beating drums and gongs and performing dragon dances to welcome the Spring Festival, China's biggest annual holiday, which fell on February 10 this year.

The word cun in Chinese means village, and cunwan is a recent buzzword that is a play on the word chunwan, meaning Spring Festival Gala. Chunwan is one of the most-watched annual shows in Chinese broadcast history, filmed live on the eve of every Chinese New Year. For the village equivalent, villagers play the roles of organizers and performers, creating a window to explore the diverse cultural beauty of villages in China.

Rural flavors

The history of the village gala goes back much further than many people might think. The first cunwan in China's history is believed to have taken place on a night before the Spring Festival in 1981, when residents of Shuiyueshan Village in Lishui, Zhejiang Province, performed folk operas illuminated only by kerosene lamps at the village primary school.

It has received increased attention in recent years. In China's recently unveiled 2024 No.1 Central Document, an annual detailed roadmap for national rural development, cunwan, along with several other recreational and sports activities, is mentioned for the first time as part of efforts to promote cultural development in rural areas.

The cunwan activities are usually meticulously planned and carried out. The saying "Three months for planning, three months for rehearsing, three months for performing and three months for aftertastes" sums up villagers' enthusiasm.

Unlike the chunwan, a professional gala produced in a top-level studio, cunwan performers do not wear exquisite costumes or meticulous makeup, yet their programs, full of life, are often well received.

The cunwan evokes strong emotional resonance among villagers by showcasing the things that surround them, Ji Zhongyang, a professor at the School of Humanities at Southeast University, said. He said the most striking feature of these galas is how down to earth they are.

In Ninghai County of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, a cunwan held on January 25 featured a performance inspired by a popular café in Yongwang Village. The village has seen many investments in coffee shops in recent years, which have boosted the village's reputation online and attracted visitors. Many real scenarios that take place in today's Chinese villages were included, such as influencers sharing their lives on livestreaming apps and people accepting interviews to shed more light on local development. The performances were staged against the backdrop of local beautiful scenery such as rice fields and seasonal blooms.

The gala is not only a feast for the eyes, but also for the stomach. In Sanjianfang, visitors could try snacks like mutton shish kebabs, steamed buns and deep-fried fermented tofu. Over 600 varieties of agricultural products, cultural and creative products and handicrafts were exhibited or on sale, making the village the right place to buy some Chinese New Year's goodies.

The booth for Bomi displayed Tibetan Gastrodia elatais and Ganoderma tea, both medicinal herbs, the rare Tibetan Yigong chili, as well as posters promoting the region's rich tourism resources. "We were invited by the National Center for Public Cultural Development [under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism], which suggested we promote our local peach blossom festival next March or April," Xuan Said,

Livestreaming booths selling Xizang's distinctive products also attracted many visitors. "The Spring Festival market makes the cunwan in Sanjianfang different from others. The participation of authorities is a guarantee of quality," she said of the local government's involvement in the event.

Cultural enrichment

The popularity of cunwan is a result of countryside cultural development that has been carried out during rural revitalization. "Through cunwan, people not only find a way to enjoy themselves but also to spread rural culture and art and show the new face and life of the village," Ji told Jinling Evening News.

During the cunwan at a scenic spot in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County in Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on February 3, over 1,200 people from 22 performing teams in the region brought a visual treat with unique ethnic features to villagers and visitors.

A form of national cultural heritage, the Grand Song of the Dong ethnicity, is a must at every big local gathering. The multi-part singing performance, presenting the sounds of nature in acapella form, is a symbol of their culture.

Most of China's intangible cultural heritage resources are collected from and preserved by people living in the countryside, Xiao Fang, a folklore professor at the School of Sociology at Beijing Normal University, said, adding that some of these resources are brought onto the stage during cunwan, which provides another opportunity for passing them on.

"Only when people embrace these resources in daily life, can they truly remain alive and be passed down from generation to generation," he told Hubei Daily.

"In protecting intangible cultural heritage, we now place more emphasis on a comprehensive approach, which takes into account the people who preserve it and the environment surrounding it," he said, adding that in this sense, hosting cunwan can be an effective approach.

Xiao said cunwan is part of the evolution of village entertainment, and is akin to watching folk opera performances, an important recreational activity of the past. Through village galas, people have reshaped their cultural life and strengthened interpersonal relationships, he said. 

(Printed Edition Title: Village Showtime)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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