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A lantern fair to remember -- Dazzling lanterns, delicious dumplings and dancing lions

The annual lantern fair is underway in historic Anting Old Town. There are lion dancers, acrobats, traditional music, crafts, dumplings and fun for the whole family, writes Nie Xin

The Lantern Festival concludes the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. It falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the night of the first full moon. This year it falls on Monday.

The festival is sometimes called Yuanxiao Festival, after the round yuanxiao dumplings with sweet stuffing that must be eaten by celebrants.

Lantern fairs and eating dumplings are a must.

Anting Old Street Lantern Fair is underway and runs through Tuesday from 9am to 9:30pm daily.

The high point will be Lantern Festival on Monday night.

The well-preserved street is decorated with traditional and modern creative lanterns.

Visitors can watch lion dances, folk artists making handicrafts, traditional painting and calligraphy demonstrations -- and of course, eat snacks to their hearts' content.

This is the second annual lantern fair in Anting.

"When Anting Town in Jiading District is mentioned, most people think of the International Auto City, but there's great history here," says Zhang Hongxia, publicity department chief of Anting Town government.

The old town dates back more than 1,000 years and has ancient bridges, temples, towers and trees that shaded our ancestors.

"We hope to promote our old history and culture as well as the auto industry to people the world over," says Zhang.

Anting Old Street was named a "Featured Commercial Street" by the Shanghai Economic and Information Technology Development Commission last year. It has become known for one of the biggest markets for Chinese paintings and calligraphy works in Shanghai, as well as antiques and rare stones from around China.

More than 1,000 lanterns are on display for the fair.

At the eastern end of the street, lanterns are shaped like figures from "Journey to the West" featuring the Monkey King. Automobiles are combined with history. Monkey King, the Queen Mother of the West (xi wangmu), and the Jade Emperor are seated in modern cars. Quite a startling image.

Lantern figures depict historical scenes, such as "Gui Youguang and Zhenchuan School," "Haiyue and Touyao Well" and "Liu Bozou Tastes Tea Beside Liuquan Bridge."

Food is essential to a proper festival.

The essential Lantern Festival food is yuanxiao dumplings (also called tangyuan).

Round yuanxiao are made with glutinous rice flour, stuffed with sweet sesame, sweet bean paste, or meat and other fillings. The shape is essential, the round dumplings symbolize unity, harmony and happiness. The other name tangyuan means all-together.

Besides yuanxiao, local Anting foods include Baishui tofu, ginkgo rice cakes, many pancakes and other snacks.

"In Anting Town we have the oldest ginkgo tree in Shanghai, which is thousands of years old," says Li, "and of course we believe we have the best ginkgo seeds."

Baishui tofu is one of the three famous Anting white foods (Anting Sanbai). Bai means white. The other two are white rice wine and white boiled mutton.

The process of making Baishui tofu is quite complex. Fresh and pure homemade bean curd is used, along with a "white soup" made of chicken bones, eels and other nutritious food. The tofu absorbs the taste and nutrition.

As visitors take in the lanterns and snack, they can also watch demonstrations of folk art, such as pinching dough figure, paper-cuts, and straw weaving. Traditional Chinese music ensembles perform, as well as acrobats and dancers.

There will be a special show on the night of the Lantern Festival, from 6-9pm, running from south to north.

Lion dances, stilt walkers, dancers dressed as mussels (shellfish), and Chinese operas will be featured.

Three lantern scenes

Gui Youguang and Zhenchuan School

Gui Youguang (1506-1571) was a famous Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) literati and essayist and his essays are still popular.

Gui was born in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, and moved to Anting when he was 36. He studied, taught and gave lectures for 13 years, exerting great influence on the cultural development of southern China. He was also known as Zhenchuan.

To commemorate him, Zhenchuan School was built in 1828; today it is Anting Middle School.

Haiyue and Touyao Well

Puti Temple was built in 239 AD in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD), three years earlier than the famous Yufo Temple, says Feng Jikang from Anting Town government, who is in charge of the lantern fair.

According to legend, the main hall of Puti Temple collapsed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and many statues of Buddha were destroyed. A monk named Haiyue vowed to rebuild the hall.

In order to show his determination, Haiyue cast a heavy iron chain weighing many kilograms and wore it around his neck. He threw the key to the chain into a well on the temple grounds, vowing he would never take off the chain until he rebuilt the hall of Puti Temple.

Haiyue spent five years working day and night on the project. Finally he realized his promise of restoring the temple and statues.

The people of Anting were ecstatic. They located the key at the bottom of the well, unlocked the chain from the monk's neck and elected him master of Puti Temple.

The well was renamed Touyao Well (touyao means "throw key"). The well no longer exists, but the site is part of Anting Middle School.

Liu Bozou Tastes Tea Beside Liuquan Bridge

Anting Liuquan Bridge (liuquan means sixth spring) stretches 43 meters in Lupu Village, crossing a famous spring and stream.

Built in 1924, the bridge is a protected cultural relic. The spring became famous for its delicious water in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Later, Liu Bozou, a governor in the Ming Dynasty and a tea tasting master, praised the spring. He called it "No. 6 spring in China."


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