Yuyuan Lantern Fair kicks off with tons of activities
This year's Yuyuan Lantern Fair has gone viral online. So what does the Year of the Rabbit have in store?
The theme of 2023 lantern show is "a magic adventure of mountains and sea," inspired by "The Classic of Mountains and Seas," also known as "Shan Hai Jing," a Chinese classic text and compilation of mythic geography and beasts.
The lanterns combine traditional handcraft and high-tech installations to present an immersive show about ancient China.
The iconic Zigzag Bridge has been transformed into a fairytale land with fascinating mythical creatures from the book. Yinglong dragon, the most powerful beast in "Shan Hai Jing," glows in the pond with pink wings. Bailu, the white deer representing long life and a propitious omen, has gorgeous antlers and blinking eyes.
Visitors can use mobile phones to interact with the lanterns embedded with augmented reality. The dragon and other creatures come to life, flying in a virtual reality world.
In the period of Emperor Zhu Di in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the annual lantern fair was the biggest cultural event during the Spring Festival. The major lantern was called Giant Aoshan, or Turtle Mountain. It comprised hundreds of smaller lanterns, and was a key attraction in the festival during that time.
The spectacle seems to have returned at this year's Yuyuan Lantern Fair.
The major draw in the center square is a huge rabbit lantern dressed in the style of Flying Apsaras in Dunhuang murals, performing the legendary dance, while Kun Peng, a mythical beast that looks like a hybrid of fish and bird, flying beside it. The light and color change, bringing a magical view.
The lanterns at the Golden Square feature a rabbit, magpie, dog, turtle and bat, which represent the five auspicious animals, and they're performing in a band. In Jiangnan (regions south of the Yangtze River), there is a saying that if the five turn up, men of talent would come out in succession in the family.
A group of fancy carp lanterns jointly created by Yuyuan and Shanghai Museum are on show on Yuyuan Old Street.
As a highlight, every night an activity is held to recreate the grand lighting ceremony of the Lantern Festival from ancient times. When touching the glowing mirror on the lanterns, the whole Yuyuan Garden instantaneously converges into a bright sea of lights.
In traditional Chinese culture, the lantern fair isn't just about lanterns. Meeting new friends, playing lantern riddles and trying festive food are all fun ways to enjoy the event.
They also provide an immersive experience for visitors – meeting the ancient friends.
The rabbit fairy with fluffy ears, the scholar carrying a Chinese traditional wooden book box, the rabbit fairy in a blooming dress, the ancient peddler bringing rabbit hats and lanterns, and the general in his helmet and armor – there are five actors walking around the fair this year. Find them, and take part in a fun interactive game.
The most popular character must be the scholar, who takes out a book of lantern riddles when you bump into him. If your answer is correct, you'll win the lucky character fu (福) as a New Year's gift.
The special-edition moon rabbit lanterns touted by the peddler are well received by visitors, and were sold out in the first week.
More lantern riddles are placed along the street near Shanghai Pear Candy Store. It's quite fun to guess the answers, send wishes, or release flying lanterns, much like what the ancient people did hundreds of years ago. Today, we're doing the same thing, but in the metaverse. Just scan the QR code.
Ask for a blessing? Go find a huge red lantern with the golden character ji (luck 吉), on Wenchang Street near Exit 8, a New Year's lucky draw can be found beside it.
As a tradition dating back 700 years, a lantern fair trip always ends with a bowl of tangyuan (glutinous balls with sweet or salty fillings). The Ningbo Dumpling Restaurant is offering both sweet and salty tangyuan, with four with sesame filling, and two with pork filling. It makes a great midnight snack.
The annual lantern fair will be running through February 15, with traditional festive celebrations held on January 22-28 and February 1-5, which require a ticket.
As a hidden gem, a mini lantern fair is underway at "Yumeng Miniature World – Shanghai in Wonderland" in Tianyu Mansion. At the exhibition, the Yuyuan Garden and the City God Temple are restored on a huge table covering 80 square meters, based on a painting from the period of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
If you go:
1. The Lantern Fair
Date: Through February 15
Admission: Free (except January 22-28 and February 1-5)
Tickets: 50 yuan for adults and 30 yuan for children (80 yuan for adults and 50 yuan for children on February 5)
2. Yumeng Miniature World
Opening hours: 9am-9pm
Address: B1, Tianyu Mansion, 159 Jiujiaochang Rd
Tickets: 120 yuan for adults and 60 yuan for children (ticket for the lantern fair is also required during January 22-28 and February 1-5)