Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s called in China and Chinese New Year as it’s widely known abroad, is the most important traditional festival in China and many other places in Asia. The holiday season kicks into full swing sometime shortly after Western New Year’s Eve, when various celebrations begin in earnest throughout China, continuing until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Along with the rise of modern civilization, however, traditional celebrations have seen a gradual decline, especially in large cities. Fortunately, more orthodox Spring Festival celebrations are still well-preserved in many less-developed rural areas, such as Yuxian County.
Nestled in the Huliu River Valley of Hebei Province, Yuxian lies only about 240 kilometers from Beijing along an important passage between North China Plain and Zhangbei Plateau. Historically, due to its strategic location, the county was the site of countless battles between nomadic tribes from the North and feudal regimes in Central China. Since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), several fortresses erected there served their builders’ defense needs. One of them, Shangsuzhuang Village, is amongst the county’s best-preserved.
Shangsuzhuang’s history can be traced back to the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566) of the Ming Dynasty. During its early years and after its retirement from military use, the structure not only played host to legions of residents for centuries, but also cultivated its own folk customs, such as the Lamp Worshipping ceremony to pray for blessings from the god of fire during the Spring Festival. The traditional ceremony has already been handed down through the generations for more than 460 years. In the past, similar celebrations happened all over Yuxian County, but only Shangsuzhuang now continues the tradition. In 2008, the ceremony was included in China’s Second National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
When the village first emerged as a Ming Dynasty fortress, a memorial tower, known now as the Lamp Worshipping Tower, was built in the southern end to worship the god of fire. Additionally, the Temple of Three Brothers was built in the northern section in honor of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, who swore brotherhood at the Peach Garden in the classic novel The Romance of Three Kingdoms. Legend goes that Liu Bei was reincarnated as the god of water, so the temple helps keep balance with the “fire” of the southern end.