The 2017 BRICS Summit, which kicked off on Sunday, has caused Xiamen, a tourist city located in the southern part of East China's Fujian Province, to become the center of global attention due to its role as host of the event. [Special coverage]
Once a major link along the ancient Maritime Silk Road, the coastal city celebrates a number of exotic folk traditions that you may not have heard of before.
A Mid-Autumn Festival (Fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month) tradition popular in the southern part of Fujian Province and Taiwan, mooncake gambling, or bobing in Chinese, is a fun game that supposedly can help tell if you will have good luck over the following year.
The activity involves participants rolling six dice in a big porcelain bowl in order to win different sized mooncakes - a kind of round-shaped pastry stuffed with fillings such as lotus seed paste that is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. For instance, by rolling four fours and two ones, the roller is declared the zhuangyuan - the title of a student who came in first in the ancient imperial exams - and is then awarded the biggest mooncake. It is believed that whoever wins the title of zhuangyuan in the game will have great luck the next year.
Dating back to the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the game is said to have been invented by the legendary Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) loyalist general Zheng Chenggong, better known as Koxinga in the West, after his forces retreated to Xiamen after losing a battle with the Qing military in 1645.
Zheng and several of his officers came up with the game in order to boost the morale of his soldiers. It later became a local festival tradition, and was later brought to Taiwan when Zheng defeated the Dutch colonists and took control of the island.
Modern mooncake gambling usually involves more prizes than just mooncakes, but the festive atmosphere as people gather around the table to roll the dice and test their luck remains unchanged.
The Wangye Boat-Burning Festival
Every three to four years, the people of Xiamen hold a traditional festival that involves burning a giant wooden boat. The Wangye Boat-Burning Festival dates back to the early Ming Dynasty, and is usually held during the 10th lunar month on a day decided by zhijiao, an ancient method of divination that involves throwing two clamshell-shaped wooden blocks on the ground.
Also celebrated in Taiwan, the festival is held to worship wangye, a god who locals believe can ward off bad spirits and dispel disease. During the festival, locals "invite" wangye on a beautifully decorated boat loaded with rice, oil and other daily necessities and then carry the boat around the city so the god can ward off evil spirits. Eventually, the boat is taken to the beach and wangye is "sent" off by lighting the boat on fire.
Several months before the festival, locals build a wooden boat and decorate it with flags and paper men or dolls to represent celestial generals and sailors. Special sacrificial ceremonies are held during this time to bless the boat and make it sacred. Closer to the festival, ceremonies are held to "invite" wangye onto the boat, which is loaded with food and joss paper, or "ghost money."
In the early morning on the day of the festival, men carry the boat on a procession through the town and then to the beach, where it is set on fire. As the boat burns, those attending the ceremony pray for good fortune until there is nothing left of the boat but ashes.
Aside from the boat-burning ceremony, local operas, traditional folk dances are often performed over several days. As such, the event is also regarded as a local maritime carnival.
Very popular in Xiamen and Taiwan, gezaixi, or Taiwanese Opera, is a form of opera based on jinge, a folk opera that originated in Zhangzhou, a city close to Xiamen. It is said that jinge was brought to Taiwan by people who migrated along with Zheng's army during the early Qing Dynasty. The opera eventually began incorporating the local dialect and absorbed elements of other Chinese operas to eventually become gezaixi. Later, gezaixi was introduced to Fujian Province during the early 20th century, where it became particularly popular in Xiamen. As quite a number of gezaixi troupes emerged, people flooded to theaters to watch performances.
An important artistic bond that reaches across the Taiwan Straits, the opera features an abundant range of melodies and local dialects, and mainly focuses on songs and stories that depict daily life and local legends from the region.