Unveiling Spring Festival in Henan
A time when people freely express their reverence for tradition
Published: Feb 22, 2024 10:15 PM
Performers at a temple fair in Central China's Henan Province Photo: VCG

Performers at a temple fair in Central China's Henan Province Photo: VCG

Located in the heartland of China, Henan Province may not be the first place that springs to mind when thinking of tourist hotspots. However, as the birthplace of four ancient capitals and pivotal grain-producer, locals tend to showcase their understanding of their heritage to visitors.

Henan's provincial capital is Zhengzhou, situated in the north-central region. With a population of more than 10 million residents, this bustling metropolis serves as one of China's busiest transportation hubs. At the colossal Zhengzhou East Railway Station, the largest high-speed railway hub in Asia, tens of thousands of trips are made every day, indicating the city's status as the economic and transport center of the Central Plains.

In terms of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the eight-day-long Spring Festival holidays magnify the traditional facets of this central plain city: Bustling temple fairs, immersive cinematic experiences complete with traditional attire, and countless traditional craftsmanship activities and a time when people freely express their reverence for tradition.

Modernity meets customs

For centuries, soil has been synonymous with this region. 

The Yellow River, originating from the Bayan Har Mountains overlooking the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, enriches these plains as it flows eastward, fostering a rich agricultural civilization that has radiated across the nation. Today, official data highlight Henan's pivotal role in ensuring national food security, serving as a "cornerstone" in addition to the three provinces in Northeast China.

While for centuries, local people satisfied their hunger with produce from abundant soil resources, they also took advantage of the resources to create art. A most representative art form, Ni Gugu, is a kind of traditional animal-shaped figurine pottery passed down for at least 14 centuries. They are adorned with classic black paint and colorful stripes and have transitioned from ancient temple fairs to modern times. 

Amid the bustling Financial Island Temple Fair during this year's Spring Festival in Zhengzhou, these classic yet punk-esque clay figurines were once again embraced by fans from far and wide. Many people keenly watched the heritage inheritors explain how such an interesting decor piece is made.

Lining up against the enormous circular compounds on the island, one of the local staff told the Global Times that more than 200 stalls had been set up this year. 

With pandemic-induced inconveniences now a thing of the past, people's passion toward the Lunar New Year experienced an unprecedented surge after the three-year stillness (it could also be seen from the booms and bangs of fireworks lighting up the city at this year's Chinese New Year Eve celebrations, a rare scene after years of a firecracker ban).

Setting the purely traditional gadgets aside, China chic is also another representative term for Henan, thanks to its role as China's most ancient capital Shang Dynasty (c.1600 BC-1046 BC) where millennia-old relics were excavated, to the famous Palace Banquet in a Tang Dynasty dance by Zhengzhou Song and Dance Theater that became popular nationwide.

People's love for the trend was extended to this lively temple fair. In addition to the traditional crafts, the most expected activities by visitors were probably the COSPLAY shows from the Journey to the West, in which Tang Sanzang joins the Queen of the Women's Kingdom, wandering together in the temple fair. Also, as night fell, 2,000 drones took to the sky forming a Chinese dragon, the brainchild of a Gen-Z-directed team.  

Preserve memories 

Some 20 kilometers from the Financial Island stands a testament to tradition: The immersive theatrical entertainment center - Unique Henan, Land of Dramas, established in 2018. Here, the element of soil is once again abundant in the forms of expression. As one traverses the theatrical theme park's fields of wheat, the towering rammed earth walls, standing at 15 meters high, come into view.

Here, a historical aesthetic reigns supreme. Unique Henan maintains a harmonious tone with its yellow soil. It embodies not just the thematic imagery of the fantasy city but also the broader aesthetic direction of the entire project, utilizing the essence of the Yellow River and Henan to convey reverence for bygone eras and ancestral civilizations.

During the Spring Festival holidays, all 21 theaters were packed with performances well attended by masses of tourists. With more than 100 shows staged daily, each performance brimmed with imaginative plots and utilized cutting-edge technology to allow audiences to "time-travel" and engage in dialogue with ancient figures.

"This is a place where people will find their hometown as Henan is the birthplace of ancient China's first recorded dynasty," an employee told the Global Times. 

Shops with imaginative goods influenced by local cultures were on offer for tourists to help them preserve the memories of the past.

Every corner of the park is steeped in memories from different eras, attracting not just the younger generation but also many native retirees who seek to relive the past.

Over the years, Zhengzhou has evolved from obscurity into a pivotal city in Central China, with nationwide influence. The city's rich history has, however, not been obscured by urbanization, rather traditions have been perfectly preserved in the theme parks, and the yearly temple fairs, mixed with economic development to create a magnetic and vibrant city.