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Nanjing Folk Cultures

Traditional Festival Customs

The old saying goes “All fortunes come from the Southeast and gather at a place called Jinling.” As a capital of ten dynasties, Nanjing is the best in the Southeast with integration of urban grandness, deep culture, elegance and heroism.

Spring Festival (Chun Jie)

It is the New Year’s Day which is also called “Guo Nian” when people in Nanjing clean houses, decorate streets with lanterns and colorful hangings, wear new clothes and hats, paste up couplets and light firecrackers.

The doors will be decorated with Spring Festival couplets or Door God. On the first day of the New Year, people will drink Tusu wine. Wang Anshi, prime minister (in feudal China) of Zhijiangningfu (a prefecture), once said in his poem, “One years older in the sound of firecrackers; Spring blowing warmth into the Tusu”. This custom started from the Southern Dynasty. Nanjing people have been drinking the Tusu wine on Spring Festival for thousands of years and formed a set of rules: the family are all facing the East when the sun is rising and start to drink from the youngest to the eldest. It means their life will be getting better and better. Before noon on the New Year’s Day, families and friends will come and wish a Happy New Year. The host and hostess will greet them with hands folded in front and teas and snacks. Besides, guests will get two eggs which looks like shoe-shaped gold ingots and it means fortunes will come.

Now when people meet on Spring Festival, they greet each other with “Congratulations and best wishes for a prosperous New Year” and give each other tea or cigarette as well as delicious snacks.

Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie)

The 15th day of the first lunar month is the first night of a full moon in a year, hence the name “Yuan Ye”. Since “Ye” and “Xiao” have the same meaning in Chinese, it is called “Yuan Xiao”.

The Lantern Festival is developed from sacrificial activities to a grand festival. In ancient times, it only lasted for 1 day; it began to last for 3 days in the Tang Dynasty, from the 16th day of the first lunar month to the 18th; in the Sung Dynasty, it lasted from the 14th to the 18th of the first lunar month; When it came to the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang made it last for 10 days, from the 8th to 18th when the lanterns were off. Foods eaten on the Lantern Festival have changed into the glutinous rice-balls instead of bean porridges. Having glutinous rice-balls when the lanterns are on and having noodles when the lanterns are off is a custom in Nanjing.

In the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Nanjing people will play Loong lanterns and hang up lanterns made of yarn on the Lantern Festival. The length of the Loong lanterns is from 33 meters to hundreds of meters and hundreds of people can play together. As for lanterns made of yarn, famous people draw on them. The better the people’s skills, the higher the price. Lantern riddle-guessing activates are held in front of stores to attract customers. The winner can get an item sold in the store. Besides, a kind of lanterns called “Flying Horse” is created by Nanjing people. The candle inside of the lantern is lighted and the hot air lifts it up. The rotational lantern makes the horses painted on it go whirling wildly ahead. Joseph Lee, British scholar, considers it as one of ancient inventions in China. The grand Loong lanterns and the elegant Yarn lanterns of all kinds attract lots of people coming out and cheer for the festival. “Under the full moon, in the shadow of the silver light, people greeting each other are all for the Lantern Festival.” In recently decades, the Lantern Festival in the Confucius Temple of Nanjing is blooming. Lanterns are made with new techniques, new materials and controlled by sound or light, very vivid and fantastic. It starts on Spring Festival and last for one month, during which it attracts 200,000 to 300,000 tourists worldwide every day.

Tomb-sweeping Day (Qingming Jie)

From the ancient time, the Qingming Festival has been paid great attention to both by Chinese Courts and common people since tomb-sweeping that day is a custom. When the day comes, people go tomb-sweeping in means of burning papers, spilling wine, making a tomb hat and planting willows in order to express their memorial towards the ancestors. Besides, people will bring some tea and snacks for the tomb keeper who will keep the food and drink, hence the name “tomb relatives”.

When it comes to the Qingming, the spring is great with plenty of sunshine. People can go out of doors to enjoy natural charms. Places such as Ox Head Mountain, Yu Hua Tai and Plum Blossom Mountain are all wonderful choices for a spring excursion.

The Ox Head Mountain has more scenic spots in recently years and it is connected with the General Mountain nearby where becomes a brilliant place for tourists to enjoy the natural beauties. Besides, located in the southern part of Nanjing, the Yu Hua Tai is a frequently visited place of interest. So is Plum Blossom Mountain in the eastern suburb. In recent decades, the Plum Blossom Mountain has a large area of plum gardens and it holds international plum festivals when crowds of people are intoxicated in the blooming plums and their sweet flavor, lingering on without no thought of leaving.

Loong Boat Festival (Duanwu Jie)

The Loong Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Nanjing people like having zongzi, green pea cake, “Frying Five Drugs” (The five “drugs” are silver fish, dried shrimp, brassica, Chinese chive and black bean curd), three-colored amaranth and java senna fruit on that day and they drink realgar wine to get away from disasters. Besides, people use water that has been burnt under the sunshine to wash their eyes so as not to suffer eye disease for the whole year; they also spray water on the ground by flagleaf and argyi leaf which are later put on the door header to protect the family from disasters. The paintings with Zhong Kui and pictures with five poisonous creatures are hung up to drive ghosts away and repel evil spirits. As for children, five-colored silk net with a salted duck egg inside are hung on their necks; five-colored cords are tied to their arms which are called “long longevity cords”; they wear shoes shaped like tiger head and scarves with tiger head paintings; “王”—a Chinese character is painted on the heads of children by the realgar wine. Five-colored tiger flowers are on women’s temples.

After lunch, the whole family will go to the Confucius Temple to watch the loong boat competition on the Qinhuai River. There are “three factions” of Jinling Loong boats: He, Jiang and Mu. No where has such a great number of loong boats with so large scale. Each boat is decorated with colorful kites and children play roles of games on it. When the competition begins, audiences throw coins or set free ducks and geese for amusements and cheer for the “championship”. Crowds of people gather on banks playing drums and cheering. As for some rich family, they can enjoy it on boat rented ahead of time. Boating on the Qinhuai River started from Tang Dynasty and went blooming from Ming and Qing to the early period of Republic of China. The Qinhuai River is famous for its gaily-painted boats, drums, sound of paddles and shadow of lights which have been vividly recorded in many books, such as “Ke Zuo Zhui Yu” by Gu Qiyuan, “The Peach Blossom Fan” by Kong Shangren and “Note of the Slat Bridge” by Yu Huai.

In recent two decades, the Qinhuai River has been under lots of renovations. Water has been changed in fixed times and the number of gaily-painted boats is increasing which makes the scenery more beautiful. At nights, when the lights on banks are on, it is more fantastic, especially when tourists go boating inside the painting-like scenery. People can truly enjoy themselves.

Mid-Autumn Day (Zhongqiu Jie)

The Mid-Autumn Day falls on the fifth day of the eighth lunar month which is also called the festival of August in Jiangnan area. People out of their hometowns will go back home for reunion that night with the full moon. Nanjing people like to enjoy the full moon together with their families to celebrate the reunion. Sitting around the table is called “Yuan Yue” (full moon) while going out on night streets is called “Zou Yue” (walking under the full moon). In the early period of Ming Dynasty, people can go to many places to enjoy the full moon, such as “Moon Watching Tower” and “Moon Playing Bridge” which is on the southern part of the Qinhuai River in the Confucius Temple. Next to the bridge is the residence of Ma Xianglan, a famous courtesan at that time who attracts men to play instruments and sing songs on the bridge and make poems towards the moon. Hence the name “Moon Playing Bridge” which is even recorded in some poems. Besides, the “Moon Tower” at the foot of the Lion Mountain is also a good place in the Qing Dynasty.

After Qing Dynasty, people still keep the custom of enjoying the full moon on the Mid-Autumn Day. They display fresh fruits and moon cakes, light “flavor cup” (flavors are made into a shape of tower with paper cup on it), tell the story called “Chang'e's Flying to the Moon” and share moon cakes which are of different types.

In the evening of the night, there is a custom for women in Nanjing to “Mo Qiu” which means women go to the Jasmine Garden to “steal” melons and fruits for their men. This game has a long history. In recent 20 years, people pay great attention to the Mid-Autumn day by enjoying the full moon on the Tai Town Walls or go boating on the Xuanwu Lake or the Qinhuai River. Moon cakes bought by people themselves or given by their organizations are very popular and love is all round.

Double Ninth Festival (Chongyang Jie)

According to the name, this festival falls on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. Since 9 is a number of “Yang”, it is called “Chong Yang” (double Yang). People in Nanjing from the ancient times go out to climb mountains this day. The “climbing mountains gathering” stems from a strange legend about repelling evil spirits and it is recorded in the “Xu Qi Story” written by Wu Jun, Liang of Southern Dynasties. The Double Ninth Festival is blooming from Wei and Jin Dynasties, Southern and Northern Dynasties to Ming and Qing Dynasty. During the time, many places are suitable for climbing, such as Yu Hua Tai in the southern Nanjing, Beiji Pavilion in the middle of Nanjing and Mu Fu Mountain in the northern Nanjing. There is a pavilion on the Mu Fu Mountain built in Han Dynasty called “Loong Transformed Pavilion” because when the Jinyuan Emperor was crossing the river by horse, the horse transformed into a Loong which helped him go across the river successfully. Besides, On one side of the mountain, there is a Bodhidharma Cave of Liang Dynasty where has been visited by lots of tourists. In 1805, a “River Watching Tower” was built on the mountain by militaries and it was initiated by Hu Lanchuan, prefecture chief in feudal China and other government officials as well as some social celebrities. Lights of the tower are on during nights which can not only be guide of boats and ships but also become a wonderful place for enjoying the view. People considered it as a good deed.

On the Double Ninth Festival, Nanjing people like to eat Chongyang cakes with meat inside, drink daisy wine and enjoy chrysanthemum flowers. Moreover, people make Chongyang flags to their children. If a girl is getting married this day, her parents have to give her Chongyang flags and fresh food preservation boxes which is called “boxes of Chongyang Jie”.

Nowadays, people still climb mountains on the Double Ninth Festival for enjoying grand views of China rather than repel evil spirits.

Tourist Festival of Four Seasons Nowadays

Spring—Nanjing International Plum Blossom Festival. The Plum Blossom is the city flower of Nanjing. Enjoying plum blossoms is a custom of Nanjing since the six dynasties. At present, people can enjoy plum blossoms in the Pearl Spring Park, Fu Jia Bian and Gu Lin Park, etc. But the best place is the Plum Blossom Mountain. The International Plum Blossom Festival is held in Nanjing every year from the end of February to the middle of March. Over 400,000 people join in the activities.

Summer—Grape Festival of Jiang Xin Island. Jiang Xin Island is an island in the southern part of western Nanjing in the Yangtze River with beautiful sceneries. Every July and August, when thousand of acres on the island are full of rich grapes, tourists come to have fun by picking up grapes themselves and enjoy the natural Oxygen bar.

Autumn—Rain Flower Stone Festival. The rain flower stone is one of the symbols of Nanjing. In every golden September, a series of activities are held in the Yu Hua Tai scenic area, such as “It rains rain flowers” performance, top quality rain flowers exhibition, symposiums and picking stones tour, etc. Liu He county, place of origin of rain flower stones, carry out activities at the same time.

Winter—Listening to Bells for The New Year. This activity is usually held in the bell tower of the Qi Xia Temple. Masters (a courteous address for Buddhists or Taoist priests) will chant scriptures to pray for peace and a stable society. And the host/hostess together with a representative of guests will toll the bell 108 times. The whole place is full of joy and harmony.

Sweet Osmanthus Flower Festival of Ling Gu Temple

The Ling Gu Temple’s sweet osmanthus garden is located inside the Sun Yet-Sen’s Mausoleum and has a coverage of 1,700 acre with nearly 20,000 sweet osmanthus trees. It is the largest sweet osmanthus garden in China. Every September when sweet osmanthus are blooming, the fragrant flavor and the flowers attract numbers of tourists.

The Crab Festival of Gao Chun is from September 30 to October 6. “Going to Gao Chun to taste crabs, visit the big Buddhism figure and the old streets” has become a custom for Nanjing people. During the time, activities are held in three scenic spots—Gao Chun Old Streets, Youzi Mountain and Land of Peach Blossom, such as Chinese traditional operas, barn lanterns performance, Wu Shu, Loong boat performance, ten thousands people tasting crabs and campfire party, etc. All these make tourists home and abroad linger on with no thought of leaving.

Ecological Festival of Pukou District

Famous for its ten-li hot spring, hundred-li Lao Mountain and thousand-li maidenhair trees, the Pukou ecological festival is a touring activity integrated with appreciation, patrician and entertainment. People can fully enjoy the natural ecological beauty through “mountains, water, green and air” and they can join in festivals such as splashing water, folk culture and BBQ on mountains, etc.

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