Entering the war zone (?)
24.02.2013 - 24.02.2013
View Tribes & Festivals of Southern China on Andrea R's travel map.
I would just like to say - for the record - I had NO IDEA what the fire dragon festival in Leishan was going to entail. You've seen the lovely costumes and mostly staid dancing in the other festivals so far on this trip. This is not that. My camera was inadequate to capture the details, but I'll try to use more words in this post to convey what happened on the infamous night of the fire dragons.
It started off innocently enough, with kids and adults alike, all over town, letting off crackers and bangers anywhere there was space to do so. These kids know the drill, making sure the crackers were more of a visual than auditory sensation.
But this is China, where gunpowder was invented, so even the sparklers were 'mega', compared to what I was used to.
As the evening progressed, dragons were visiting local businesses to collect red envelopes containing money to pay for the big new year feast. If the envelope was handed over quickly, the dragon would move on; but if it had to wait at all, it would enter the premises, dancing, and with drums and cymbals creating a racket.
After a while we stumbled across what I can only describe as the dragon killing-field. The dragons would enter the area, one or two at a time, then men would chase them with these spark-thrower things, and burn them until they basically exploded into flames. Surprisingly, some of these paper dragons took quite a long time to die! The spark-throwers were made of short lengths of bamboo, filled with gunpowder. The crowd would surge forward then run back at an alarming pace depending on how close the dragon got, and how far the sparks flew. This is how I got a small burn on my neck!
In amongst the slaughter, fireworks (and I mean Sydney Harbour NYE fireworks) were being ignited right next to the crowds, so that they sent ash all over our heads as they lit the sky above.
This went on all through the night; the dragons falling with satisfying regularity. See the completely burnt dragon head below.
Some of the sights would make you think, if you didn't know better, that you were caught up in a war zone, or a riot at the very least, rather than a fun new year celebration.
A little way back from the frontline, a father shows his toddler son how it's done, albeit on a smaller scale!