Da Shuhua: Molten Iron Throwing Festival

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On the 15th and final day of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities, while the rest of the country celebrates with traditional fireworks, the small town of NuanQuan, about four hours' drive west of Beijing, puts up a unique pyrotechnic show. A small team of blacksmiths scoop hot molten iron from buckets and throw it against a brick wall. On impact, the molten metal explodes into a thousand brightly glowing shards like sparks shooting from exploding fireworks. The locals call it Da Shuhua, which translates as “tree flower”, so called because the blobs of metal, after they have been smacked against the wall, form floral pattern once they cool.


Photo credit: www.everfest.com

The tradition is said to originate 300 years ago when there were many blacksmiths in the farming town of NuanQuan. During the annual Lantern Festival, the rich locals would set off fireworks but the blacksmiths and farmers, being too poor to afford them, took to throwing molten metal instead. The effect was so spectacular that the practice gradually gained more appeal and people started donating their unused metal to be used in the celebration. Over the years, the Da Shuhua performers have learned to mix other metals, like copper and aluminum, to iron to create a variety of colors in the sparks.

In preparation for the event, the wooden ladles are soaked in water for three days before the show to prevent them from combusting when they come into contact with the metal. Despite this, flames shoot up the instant the ladles are dunked into the bucket of 1,000-degree-Celsius molten iron, so the men must work quickly. As the hot metal strikes the wall, it explodes into a shower of sparks mostly over the performers. After the event, members of the audience scramble to purchase the charcoal-encrusted ladles to take home as souvenirs.

To protect themselves against the splashes of the hot metal, the performers don a very inadequate sheepskin jacket, goggles, and a straw hat. The possibility of wearing modern protective gear was discussed but rejected because it was thought to be inappropriate in view of the tradition.

Because of the dangerous nature of the performance, Da Shuhua was, for a brief period, made illegal during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse Tung from 1966 to 1976. It is still practiced today, although performers are a little hard to come by. There are only four Da Shuhua performers left in NuanQuan today.


Photo credit: traditions.cultural-china.com


Photo credit: traditions.cultural-china.com


Photo credit: ChinaFotoPress


Photo credit: ChinaFotoPress


Photo credit: ChinaFotoPress

Lantern Festival Celebrations

Photo credit: Yang Shiyao, Xinhua/eyevine/Redux

Sources: Fest300 / traditions.cultural-china.com

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