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Monday, February 12, 2018

Dong people of Danian welcome the New Year with a Lusheng Festival

(China Plus) Danian, a reclusive mountain village nestled deep amongst the green peaks of Sanjiang in Guangxi Province, is home to over a thousand ethnic Dong people. Known by the locals as "the end of the world," a joke on the village's reclusive location, outsiders know it as the venue of a unique New Year celebration -- the biennial Lusheng Festival, one of Dong people's most famous cultural traditions.

For the local agricultural community, the Lusheng Festival is a farewell to the autumn harvest and a welcome for the work of spring. Held shortly after Chinese New Year's Day, the two-day gala invites residents of Danian and neighboring villages to put on their traditional costumes and gather at a riverside plaza for a pageant parade and lusheng competition.

"The festival embodies our wish for luck in next year's agricultural activities," a village elder explained, "If we didn't celebrate it, we believe that we will suffer from poor harvests in the future."

The lusheng is a traditional musical instrument popular among the Miao and Dong people. Made of hollow bamboo trunks of different sizes, the wind instrument towers above its players and generates a loud, jubilant sound that can be heard from miles away. The instrument made its debut in history in the Shi Jing, a poetry anthology documenting civic life from 1000 B.C. to 500 B.C..

The first major event of the Lusheng Festival is a parade. Unmarried girls from all the villages gather on Danian's dry river bed and line up behind their respective village elders and the lusheng artists, while spectators crowd the riverbanks and nearby buildings. The girls are dressed in complex traditional Dong and Miao costumes, which include intricate silver headpieces and hand-made red, pink, or green dresses with elaborate detailing.

"Mothers usually make their daughters' costumes themselves," said Ms. Liang, a housewife and mother of a twenty-year-old, "Many take over a year to tailor, but dressing up my daughter is well worth the effort." She demonstrated a home-made pleated skirt and a hand-embroidered shirt, both of an old-school yet popular style.

According to Danian's village sage, Mr. He, the parade initially served as a public event for young men to select romantic partners. Overtime, the significance of this function has faded, and now the parade is seen more as a festive occasion where people gather and celebrate the beauty of their ethnic culture and their hard work.

After the parade is the highly-anticipated lusheng competition, where villages send their representative teams to compete and the team with the loudest volume wins. When the time arrives, the teams gather together as two of them step up to initiate the contest. A referee from the top of a mountain raises two flags, each representative of a team, and drops the one of the team that loses. A new team takes up the empty space and challenges the winner, and so the process repeats.

"It is only from a faraway place can I discern who is louder, thus better. From a team's volume, you can tell the players' strength and the instruments' quality," explained a referee.

When only one flag is raised on the mountain top, the competition ends. The length of the competition is dependent on the number of teams present. Last year, over sixty teams came for the single laurel, and the loud blowing on the river-side plaza lasted for a day and a half.

"After the competition, the festival ends, and we return to our fields and initiate a new cycle of sowing and reaping," said Fu, a participant in the competition.

In the lingering echoes of lusheng, everything thus fell back to their normal routine. A village rich in Dong folk culture, Danian strives to preserve its cultural identity, the most important of which is the Lusheng Festival. The sound of lusheng can always be expected once every two years, accompanied by the sight of colorful traditional clothing and cheerful village gatherings.

Source: China Plus by Lu Zhiyan

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