The King of Lanterns

SW.China’s Zigong of­fers an ex­trav­a­ganza of light

Global Times - Weekend - - TRAVEL - By Lu Wen’ao

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.

Salty his­tory

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.

Pho­tos: Peng Ying

Lanterns are on dis­play at the Caideng Park in Zigong, South­west China’s Sichuan Prov­ince.

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