Fish lanterns benefit village in Anhui

Author:Suzhou Updated:2024-03-05 18:30 Source:China Daily Hits:
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Local people and visitors attend a fish lantern parade in Wangmantian, a village in Huangshan, Anhui province, in February. SHI YALEI/FOR CHINA DAILY

As night falls, the sound of drums fills the air as an 8-meter fish-shaped lantern, followed by a procession of smaller ones, meanders through the streets of Wangmantian village, Huangshan, in East China's Anhui province.

The colorful festive lantern and others not only attract young people back to their hometown and tens of thousands of tourists nationwide to flood the small village, but also illuminate a path to the future for its residents.

Within the crowd, Wang Lijun — a 27-year-old villager who serves as the "head fish" — leads the procession of lanterns, sometimes cheering on those behind her. Traditionally, respected elders held the position of "head fish", but in recent years, younger participants who have ventured outside only to return to their hometown have taken on the role voluntarily.

"It has become an emotional connection. Such an energetic custom has attracted more young villagers like me back home, and also young tourists flooding in to experience an aspect of traditional Chinese culture," Wang said.

Every year between the 13th and 16th of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, villagers in Wangmantian hold fish-shaped lantern parades. The mountain village, once predominantly consisting of wooden structures, faced the risk of frequent fires in old times. Therefore, villagers used to gather to parade with fish-shaped lanterns signifying "water overcoming fire".

Over time, such a tradition has evolved into a means for local people to gather together to wish one another good health and prosperity. With a history of over 600 years, the fish-shaped lantern was recognized as a provincial-level intangible cultural heritage in 2022.

As this traditional intangible heritage has gained traction through social media in recent years, more than 100,000 visitors from across the country came to Shexian county to experience the parades during this year's Spring Festival from Feb 10 to Feb 17.

Villagers also strive to improve their lantern-making techniques and have designed miniaturized versions of traditional fish-shaped lanterns that are warmly received in the market.

Total sales of fish-shaped lanterns and related products hit about 1.15 million yuan ($159,700) during this year's Spring Festival, the local tourism bureau told China Daily.

Wang Huawu, a 41-year-old craftsman of fish-shaped lanterns, said that since 2023, his workshop has been "filled with orders" and has received nearly 100,000 yuan worth of orders from places like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province.

Villagers in Wangmantian have established professional fish lantern performance teams. These teams have ventured to cities such as Shanghai, Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and Nanjing, Jiangsu province for artistic exchanges and performances.

As fish-shaped lanterns continue to benefit local tourism and related industries, the future looks brighter than ever.

"The fish lanterns light our way," the craftsman said.