Double Third Festival folk traditions in Zhejiang

Shi Jia
Shi Jia
Shanghai Daily takes a look at some towns and villages in Zhejiang to see how people greet the day with worship ceremonies, singing and dancing as well as temple fairs.
Shi Jia
Shi Jia

Today is the ancient Chinese Shangsi Festival, which falls on the third day of the third month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The celebration, often called the Double Third Festival, is said to be a commemoration of the birthday of Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), a legendary Chinese ruler 4,500 years ago, who is considered to be the ancestor of all Chinese people along with Yan Emperor (Yandi).

Legend says it was a tradition to bathe in the river on the day of celebration to eliminate not only dirt but also bad luck and evil spirits. Gradually it grew into an occasion for spring outings and gatherings by the river.

One of the earliest recorded, and most well known, Shangsi Festival gatherings were initiated by Wang Xizhi, the outstanding Eastern Jin (AD 317-420) calligrapher, in the year of AD 353. 

Cups of wine were set to drift down the upstream, and whenever a cup stopped in front of an invited guest, he had to compose a poem or drink the wine. However these traditions have been abandoned and forgotten in most parts of China. Only people in remote areas and some ethic minority groups still celebrate the day by its different means.

Shanghai Daily took a look at some of the beautiful towns and villages in Zhejiang Province to see how people celebrate Shangsi Festival and continue with worship ceremonies, singing and temple fairs.

Double Third Festival folk traditions in Zhejiang

The food fair on water at Wuzhen Town  

Wuzhen Town: silkworm temple fair

Wuzhen, around 125 kilometers from Hangzhou, is a typical watertown lying beside the Grand Canal. 

Watercourses divide the town and the four main streets eventually wind up and meet each other in the town center.

Dongzha (the eastern district) and Xizha (the western district) are the two protected scenic areas where you can see black-tile-and-white-wall residence houses connected by bridges that flank the town river.

For hundreds of years, on the day of the Shangsi Festival, farmers from nearby villages came to pray in the temples and entertain themselves at the fairs, at a time when the silk farming business was still an important pillar of the town’s economy.

Greeting the silkworm deity, usually by the prettiest girl in town, was an important ritual that locals believed would bring good luck to the upcoming silk farming season.

These practices have now been fixated as part of the touristic program in April every year at the Xizha Scenic Zone. 

A performative dragon boat competition is held from 2pm to 3pm every day on the town river, while a river cruise of the silkworm deity is between 3:30 and 4pm. Furthermore, visitors may join the food fair where you can buy fresh self-grown vegetables and aquatic food from farmers on their boat and have them cooked at the native restaurants nearby.

How to get there: S13 Expressway — S32 Expressway — Wuzhen Interchange — Yaotai Line — Ziye Road — Xizha Scenic Zone

Double Third Festival folk traditions in Zhejiang

Shipu Town

Shipu Town: beach carnival

Shipu, near the coastal city of Ningbo, in Zhejiang Province, has been a fishing port for thousands of years. The crescent-shaped harbor is able to accommodate over 10,000 fish boats at one time.

The town is built on the mountain slopes facing the sea and despite being over 600 years old; the tiled brick-wall houses are still in good shape around its ancient streets.

The 250-meter-long Middle Street is paved with stone slabs and has five moon-gate firewalls equally spaced along the uphill path. The place used to be crowded with silk shops, pharmacies, banks and opium dens, which are now museums.

There is a saying among locals that “on the third day of the third month, it is time for rock whelks to come out to the beach.” So on that day, people would gather on the beach to collect whelks.

It later developed into a folk festival featuring a dragon lantern show, Yueju Opera performances and carnival parades.

The key event is the performance of “the rock whelk girl picking her groom.” Performers put on traditional costumes and the “rock whelk girl” will throw an embroidered ball into the gathered crowd toward the man she favors.

How to get there: S2 Expressway — G92 Expressway — S2 Expressway — G15 Expressway — G1501 Expressway — S19 Expressway — Xiangshangang Road — Xinfeng Road — Yanhai Line S. — Yugang Road N. — Yugang Road S. — Huangcheng Avenue — Huangcheng Beach

Double Third Festival folk traditions in Zhejiang

Ceremonial instruments used during the ancestor worship ceremony at Xinye Village

Xinye Village: ancestor worship

Located southwest of Hangzhou, Xinye is an isolated village under the administration of Jiande City undisturbed by war or unrest for hundreds of years.

The place is the largest single settlement of the Ye families found in the country. Some 800 years ago, a young man named Ye Kun came here to hide from the wars between the nomadic Jurchen people and the Han Chinese.

His descents remained and prospered in the small village at the foot of Yuhua Hill. 

Attributed to its unique location, the village’s lifestyle has remained unchanged ever since its inception. Over 200 local residence houses and 16 ancestral halls are intact despite the weathering of time.

The locals consider the ancestor worship ceremony on the day of Shangsi Festival as the most important occasion of all. The ceremony is hosted in turn by five different clans of the Ye family living in the village.

Early on that day, villagers dress up in costumes and march to the deafening sounds of gongs and drums from their ancestral hall to the Yuquan Temple 1.5 kilometers away. 

After the veneration ceremony for Heaven, Earth and the ancestors, they would then greet three deities (incarnated as three carved wooden sculptures) into a delicate case and enshrine them back into the ancestral hall.

A big feast, Kunju Opera performance and temple fairs will follow and last days.

How to get there: G25 Expressway — G60N Expressway — Shouchang Interchange — G320 — G330 — Tanxin Line — Xinye Village

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