The King of Lanterns
SW.China’s Zigong offers an extravaganza of light
On the 15th day of Chinese New Year, traditional lanterns end up lighting up the entire country in a halo of light. When it comes to this traditional festival, which takes place this Saturday, a tranquil city in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province has a lot to offer. Located about 200 kilometers southeast from the provincial capital city Chengdu, Zigong may not attract the same amount of international attention as some other Sichuan cities, but when it comes to lanterns, Zigong – a city that also made its name for salt well drilling and paleontological discoveries – overshadows all others. While it takes about three hours to get to Zigong from Chengdu by bus, you will definitely feel it was worth the trip as you enter the city through an expressway decorated on either side with trees covered in strings of either white or purple lights.
City of light
Flickering reflections of lights shining on buildings can be seen in the city’s Fuxi River. All these beams of light originate at Caideng, or Multi-colored Lantern, Park, in the center of the city. Among many other lantern shows throughout China, Zigong’s annual lantern gala was recognized as a part of the country’s national intangible heritage in 2008. In the early editions of the lantern show, residents in the city sometimes had to endure blackouts during the Spring Festival to save some electricity for the powerhungry event.
However, with the increased use of energy-saving light bulbs at the festival in recent years, the people of Zigong have been able to enjoy more complex-designed lanterns without needing to fear their power will be cu
From traditional paper lanterns to more avant-garde lanterns made from empty vials, glass bottles and china ware, the show depicts the diverse legends of Chinese history with various colored lights.
Zigong’s lantern show can trace it origins all the way back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The city started to hold a more modern lantern gala around the Spring Festival in 1987, and it attracts thousands of visitors in every edition of the show.
Figures released on February 3 by the organizing committee of this year’s lantern gala reveals that more than 600,000 people visited the park since the show opened on January 19
It costs 100 yuan ($14.5) to enter the park during the Spring Festival holiday, but after the Lantern Festival admission fees drop to 60 yuan for Fridays and Saturdays and 40 yuan o other days.
Zigong is renowned for its Jurassic dinosaur fossils, thus some articulate dinosaur-like lanterns are often seen at the festival.
Additionally, there will always be a major lantern section dedicated to th year’s Chinese zodiac animal.
As 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, a lantern of a phoenix – one Chinese legend tells the tale of a phoenix who evolved from a rooster – perches on a some 10-meter-high phoenix tree lantern located in the park’s central pond. A bridge crossing the pond is also covered with a roosterlike ceiling.
The park is not very big but it is large enough for one to spend a couple of hours
exploring it all.
However, the park is always super crowded during the Spring Festival holiday. Just imagine the rush hour crowd at a subway station in a major Chinese metropolis.
There are a lot of giant lanterns standing in the pond, with a narrow bridge crossing the pond at their feet. I recommend paying the extra 10-20 yuan for a bridge pass, as I found it very fun to get close to the giant lanterns to see how they were made.
You will also find yourself walking under strings of lotus lanterns and cloud-like lanterns as they hang over the paths surrounding the pond, with lanterns portraying figures of Chinese legends as well as modern cartoons lining up on the sidewalks.
The history of Zigong is tightly connected to its salt industry, which has earned the city a major reputation over the past 1,900 years. The city was actually named after two salt wells in the region.
In 1835, Zigong was the proud owner of the first salt well in the world to exceed a depth of 1,000 meters. At the time, salt manufacturing in the region reached its peak.
This is the reason you will see salt always take a place of importance during the topic-rich lantern gala.
Your bound to see at least one lantern tianche, or wooden derrick, erected in the park as a symbol of the city’s salt industry.
Of course, it is always a favorite tradition in China to solve riddles written on lanterns during the Lantern Festival. There is a lounge bridge in the park filled with these riddle lanterns. If you want to test your knowledge of Chinese, you can take a shot at them there.
The lantern gala has become a boon for tourism in the city and generates quite a bit of revenue for the local government. It has also become a way to promote the city, as the lantern galas staged in many other cities throughout China have people from Zigong working on them.
Generally, the gala in Zigong is held from 6 pm to 10:30 pm every day, but night usually only falls around 7 pm in the tiny city during this time of the year, so don’t go too early.
After the lantern gala, you can enjoy some of the city’s local food, such as the popular Yanbang Dishes, a branch of Sichuan cuisine known for its use of salt. Rabbit meat is also at the top of the echelon of Zigong food.
The closure date of this year’s lantern gala has not been announced yet, but is expected to finish in mid-March. So if you are interested in the lantern show, it’s time to take a vacation.
Rules of thumb:
1. Do not enter the park earlier than 6 pm, when the lights are not on.
2. Avoid driving to the park since traffic is very bad in the city. There are four free bus routes from the city’s major transportation center.
3. Get the extra ticket for the bridge in the pond to enjoy a closer
look at the giant lanterns.
Lanterns are on display at the Caideng Park in Zigong, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.