Qinhuai Lantern Festival

(秦淮灯会)


Qinhuai Lantern Festival is an important component of Qinhuai culture and a famous traditional festival of Nanjing. It has been successfully held for 26 years in the Confucius Temple-Qinhuai Scenic Belt since 1985. Each year from January 1st -15th, up to several million Nanjing citizens and tourists visit the lantern shows.

Lanterns are a longtime symbol of Chinese culture. From the Lantern Festival to modern movies like Raise the Red Lantern, the lantern represents celebration, longevity and good fortune. The art of creating lanterns has been around for over 2,000 years in China and nearly 1,700 years in the Qinhuai River area. The traditional Nanjing craftwork is now protected and was officially recognized by the government as unique to the area in 2006.
Traditionally the lanterns were constructed of thin strips of bamboo to form a skeleton shape for the delicate paper to be stretched over. As an inheritor of the Nanjing Confucius Temple Qinhuai Lantern, Gu Yeliang states little has changed over the hundreds of years that lantern has been made in the area. The designs of lotus plants, rabbits and three-legged frogs are still the most popular creations. The only real change now is thin strips of plastic instead of bamboo are used to make the lantern a bit sturdier for shipping and little LED lights are placed inside instead of lit candles. 


Gu and many people claim the lotus plant designs as the symbol of the people of the area and they can be seen hanging in homes, restaurants and stores all along the Qinhuai River. The root or lotus bulb symbolizes purity as traditionally the water inside the lotus bulb is clean and an easy cure for dehydration. The bulb or seedpod symbolizes fruitfulness. While the delicate and radiant blossom revered all over China is a symbol of beauty, the paper incarnation is a lovely reminder of the spirit of the people.

For many events such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries the Chinese lantern is hung or carried about as a must-have accompaniment. A large number of lanterns displayed in a home were seen as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Later folk artists were asked to make bigger and grander lanterns, although, Gu does point out that "both sides of the river"-both the poor and the rich-have always made and enjoyed lanterns. Gu even teaches local children how to make these lanterns and has set up cultural exchange events in many cities outside China to showcase this simple yet unique Chinese craft.


Gu Yeliang stays with international friends together

The most popular event for lanterns is of course the Lantern Festival. Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese New Year it is almost akin to last major events of the Spring Festival festivities. This festival is to celebrate the first full moon of the New Year and is a time of communal celebration as families walk or almost parade down the street carrying their homemade lanterns. The tradition has spawned life-size and larger creations of animals, flowers, traditional designs and entire historical scenes complete with people and houses created out of paper and silk lanterns.

All over China, parks, tourist areas and business plazas are filled with giant paper and silk lanterns during this important festival. For Gu this is where the fun begins, as his company is one of the many suppliers of large-scale designs, but for his hometown audience the Qinhuai River gets the best of the best. Every year the waters are aglow with pinks, reds, oranges and yellows emanating from his creations. Floating down stream are entire worlds made from that great Chinese invention, lantern.

from: Bobby Brill 

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