Sometime in the 12th century, the Chinese gave the world the gift of fireworks. Despite these jaw-dropping spectacles of aerial magic being appreciated by all, the pyrotechnics remained the provenance of the elite as, to the common man, they were tantamount to setting money ablaze for sheer sport.
Enter Da Shuhua, or the Festival of Lights, an annual tradition dreamt up approximately 300 years ago by blacksmiths who wanted to participate in the annual Chinese New Year festivities but couldn’t afford the luxury of traditional fireworks displays.
Da Shuhua was their DIY answer to being priced-out of the celebration. Inspired by the sparks of their trade, under the darkness of night, blacksmiths in the village of Nuanquan, located in the the Hebei province, tossed cupfuls of molten iron against the city gate, hard and cool in the winter air. The result was a spectacular shower of blooms resembling giant glowing flowers from which the festival (translating to mean “tree flower”) took its name.
Still to this day, each Lunar New Year, the incredibly bold, somewhat insane tradition of tossing liquid metal heated to 1,000 degrees centigrade at the old city wall with nothing but sheep fur and straw hats for protection continues to stand tall in a city once known for its community of smiths. Though the display originated purely with iron cast against the wall – leaving a thin coating visible year-round – later experiments involved incorporating aluminum and copper into the molten display, producing green and white tones interspersed among the iron’s brilliant red.
Despite crafting a celebration from out of nowhere that resembles nothing else on earth, only four Da Shuhua performers remain in Nuanquan at last count. Making matters worse is the fact that the majority of these men are over the age of 40, meaning the tradition’s future is a precarious one.
Given such tenuousness, there’s no time like the present to catch a glimpse of Da Shuhua’s fleeting wonder before the populace is once again tricked into thinking fireworks are the most insurmountably beautiful example of fiery magic in our world.
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