Text and photographs by Ran Yujie
Dense crowds fill the streets and firecrackers boom all around. First-time visitors to Taiping (Peace) Bridge might mistake the event for an ordinary fair, but the celebration is something more.
With the first broken rays of morning sun lighting their ways through the drizzle, dozens of families stream towards the Taiping Bridge at Jushui Pass in Anxian County. Locals are joined by neighbors from Beichuan County and cities of Mianyang and Deyang, all in Sichuan Province. Regional residents gather there annually for a single purpose: to ward off evil spirits and pray for good luck by crossing the bridge.
Jushui Pass can be found along the upper reaches of the Jushui River, sandwiched between precipitous cliffs contrasting the surrounding Chuanxi (Western Sichuan) Plain. Spanning the river is a stone arch bridge erected in 1799 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). At the end of the bridge is a temple known as the Reclining Buddha, a popular pilgrimage destination year-round. Nobody is quite sure how the local custom of crossing the bridge first came to be, but tradition puts the event in the second month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
The custom was suspended for two years after the catastrophic Wenchuan earthquake rocked the province three years ago, and it finally resumed this year after the bridge was reinforced. It’s no surprise that this year’s festivities are injected with more grandeur and excitement than ever before.
The busiest areas are usually open spaces at both ends of the bridge, where visitors enjoy lion dancing. Children are believed to receive blessings by worshipping the “lions,” joining the dance, or crawling under them after crossing the bridge.
Another method of praying for good fortune involves colorful paper images representing a host of traditional gods, floating on two boats called “Removing Ill Fortune.” Believers write their names on pieces of red paper and paste them to favorite deities.