A Beckoning Cultural Feast
The charm and uniqueness of Guangxi’s March 3rd Festival lie not only in their excellence singing and dancing but also the ingenuity of local people. The festival is equipped with profound national customs as well as dignified cultural accumulation that you may not know. There are a lot to see if you have an eye for detail. The locals are hospitable and they will invite people to appreciate their exquisite works such as Zhuang brocade and embroidered ball. Also, local dishes, such as roast suckling pig, glutinous rice cakes and roast ducks will be served to guests and friends from afar.
Durable and exquisite brocade
Anyone having been to Guangxi is captivated by its splendid culture. The well-preserved culture is the thing that brings travelers here. Local people, simple and contented, have not changed their lives much over hundreds of years. They eat what they plant and hunt and they wear what they make and find.
Zhuang brocade, one of the four famous Chinese brocades (the other three are: Yun Brocade from Nanjing, Shu Brocade from Sichuan Province, and Song Brocade from Suzhou), serve as the cultural gem shining in a beautiful natural cradle. Like some other ethnic group women, Zhuang women have the early weaving technology in Chinese history. Zhuang women are skilled in spinning and weaving and are especially adept at weaving silk cotton. The brocade they make has a long reputation for its magnificence and exquisite workmanship. This splendid handicraft was originated in the Song Dynasty (960–1276). By the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912), Zhuang brocade was woven with colorful floss, and widely used in Zhuang people's daily life.
Zhuang brocade is woven on a manual loom, consisting of a supportive system, a transmitter, a dividing system and a jacquard system, woven in beautiful designs with natural cotton warp and dyed velour weft. Brocade with delicate designs and bright colors is embedded with fine crafts and high practical value. There are more than ten traditional designs. Most are the common things in life and decorative patterns indicating bliss and happiness. Geometrical patterns are often seen: square, pattern, wave, cloud, pattern, weaving pattern and concentric circle. There are also various flowers, plants, and animals, such as butterflies courting flowers, phoenix among peonies, two dragons playing one pearl, lions playing balls, craps jumping dragon door, etc. In recent years, the new pictures emerge, such as mountains and rivers in Guilin, grain harvest, sunflowers facing the sun, nationality union, and so on. These new pictures reflect Zhuang people's new life and new morale, and also enrich their traditional culture.
Usually girls wear a blue-and-black collarless jacket with bright furbelow, baggy trousers or Batik skirt, and a delicately embroidered apron is fastened on the waist. For boys, they are dressed in black frontopening coat with cloth-wrapped buttons, and wear a belt on the waist. Although today there is no obvious difference in the contemporary costumes of Zhuang ethnic minority and Han people, the traditional Zhuang costume, worn on special occasions such as the March 3rd Festival, is unique in style. It is not only a wonderful handicraft favored by the people in China but also has won international fame and enjoys a large market both at home and abroad.
A token of love
The song fair on the March 3rd festival is also accompanied by some other fascinating activities, with throwing embroidered balls as a typical one. Embroidered ball, a symbol of love and happiness, is a kind of folk handicraft popular with the Zhuang ethnic groups. Being exquisitely prepared by young girls before the festival, the embroidered ball, characterized by colorful appearance (mainly red, yellow, pink and green), has twelve connected "petals" on its surface, which symbolize the twelve months in a year. Each petal represents a month, and has an image of flowers, plants, or birds on it. With beans or cotton seeds inside the ball, a ribbon with decorated tassels and beads that signify pure love is tied to the ball. The skilled craft, colorful shade, rough style and harmonious composition not only are of historical significance for the Zhuang people, but also symbolize unadorned ethnic belief of the locals.
Every March 3rd Festival, girls and boys of the Zhuang people will come to hold a song fair for throwing Xiuqiu. Nowadays, Xiuqiu has not only acted as a medium between girls and boys, but also as a decoration at home or a gift for popularization. During the song fair, people dress up in their most beautiful national costume to attend this festival. For young people, antiphonal singing is a perfect chance to seek or pursue potential lovers. Usually, young boys should take the first to raise songs to girls they are into, and if the girls share the same feelings, they will respond positively to the boys through singing. In this way, song fair acts as a medium of acquaintance with each other, where they communicate and express themselves through the sweet songs. A girl could throw the embroidered ball to who she finds congenial as a sign of conveying affection. When the boy receives the embroidered ball, they could leave the song fair, exchanging other keepsakes as an emblem of promise. That is to say, receiving an embroidered ball marks the beginning of romantic relations between the boy and girl.
In some places of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, it is still popular to throw a ball made of silk strips in seeking a spouse. A young man and a girl who get to know each other through antiphonal singing and love each other even get married secretly without approval from their parents. If a girl finds a spouse through antiphonal singing and throwing a silk ball, in no need of matchmaker and betrothal gifts, making love and marriage of Zhuang people more romantic.
A mouth-watering feast of Zhuang
Food represents an indispensable part of a traditional festival. The Zhuang people take paddy rice as the staple food and they are good at making glutinous food, among which Five-Colored Glutinous Rice is a delicacy on festive occasions.
Likewise, the festival has its Zhuang version of origin from a mythological story about an old woman and an injured snake. After being saved by the kind woman, the snake decided to give up its tail to be her son. When the woman passed away on the third day of the third lunar month, the snake son expressed its appreciation by taking its human mother to the summit of Daming Mountain. Since then, extreme weather such as storms or hail often broke around Daming Mountain area on March 3rd, which was regarded by Zhuang people as an indication of the snake son coming to see its human mother. Therefore, Zhuang people hailed the old woman as the "Dragon Mother" and thought that Zhuang people living in Daming Mountain area were genuine "descendants of the dragon". Nowadays, Zhuang people hold ceremonies on this day in memory of the "Dragon Mother" for her kindness, benevolence and maternity, as well as his son for its obedience.
Usually, people would put maple leaves into the cracks of the doors and windows on March 1st and prepare Five-Colored Glutinous Rice to worship their ancestors and the "Dragon Mother" on March 3rd. As an irreplaceable sacrifice, it is said that the glutinous rice's colors derive from the snake son which had five colors on its skin, in memory of which, people dye rice with plants of different colors (usually red, yellow, purple, black and white). It is said that someone who eats the Five-Colored Glutinous Rice can be protected from illness and disasters.
The Five-Colored Glutinous Rice served during the March 3rd Festival is dyed with the extract of plants of different colors (usually red, yellow, blue, purple and white). It is said that someone who eats the Five-Colored Glutinous Rice can be protected from illness and disasters.
In addition to Five-colored Glutinous Rice, Ciba, or glutinous rice cake, deserves another special mention during the March 3rd Festival. The handmade Ciba is made of glutinous rice with sesame or peanuts as the fillings, and some may be wrapped up in banana leaves. It is said that one who eats the cake can be protected from illness and disasters.
During this festival, another way to express interest and love is to dye boiled eggs with different colors before the song fair. If a boy has his eye on a girl, he can take a painted egg to touch the painted egg held on the young girl’s hand. If the girl is also coming on to the boy, she will let him touch her painted eggs. Once the egg shells are broken, they will eat the painted eggs together and start a romantic relationship.
(By Mo Tingting)