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Lantern Festival 2007

7 March 2007

If Chinese New Year’s Eve is the moment of firecrackers, then first full moon night is the time for lanterns (三十的火,十五的灯). The lantern festival of the Pig Year is on 22 February, by then Chinese communities lighted lanterns all over the world. But nowhere on the planet the lanterns lighted more brilliant than that in China, and nowhere in China the lantern show is more magnificent than that in Nanjing, the capital of six ancient dynasties (六朝古都), and the initial dragon seat of the Great Ming (大明王朝).

The earliest lantern festival in Nanjing can trace back to third century, but it is during the Ming era that the lantern show became the number one spectacle in the Middle Kingdom, thus the saying of 秦淮灯火甲天下, meaning the lantern show along the Qinghuai River is the best under Heaven, became widely known.

For many people in China, without a lantern show (元宵灯会) to conclude the event, the Chinese New Year festival is incomplete; to many people in Nanjing, without going to the Confucian Temple (夫子庙) to watch lanterns, the lantern festival is just a sham.

So they went, in the number of nearly half million, to the temple that had nearly half million square metres of space decorated with nearly half million of lanterns.

Long before the sun abdicated its celestial throne to the moon, around and within the Confucian Temple, along and on the Qinhuai River (秦淮河) near by, the streams of lights had already come into being like the Milky Way collapsed onto Earth.

Qinhua River on the night of Lantern Festival

Across the Archway of Literature Centre (天下文枢牌坊) and the Bridge of Scholarly Virtue (文德桥) and the Hall of Great Accomplishment (大成殿), the enlightened culture of Confucius was honoured in the theme lanterns of Confucian Touring the States (孔子周游列国).

In the waterway of Qinhuai where the old-fashioned terrace boats adorned with lamps spread vari-coloured sails, the magnificent wild landscape was appreciated in the theme lanterns of Lilies in the River (荷照秦淮), of Dragons Playing Beads (双龙戏珠), of Music of the Flow (秦淮流韵).

Around the Gateway of China (中华门),the brilliant civilisation of the Ming Dynasty was reflected in the themed lanterns of First Ming Emperor Exploring the Qinhuai (朱元璋游秦淮), of First Scholar Parading His Awards (状元巡游).

Lanterns in Nanjing

And more lanterns, everywhere, in the shapes of water lily (荷花灯), of rabbit (兔子灯), of orchard (兰花灯), of lion (狮子灯), of airplane, with the help from the high tech of neo lights, of laser beams, of audio effects; the visitors were walking by the lanterns, through the lanterns, under the lanterns. And that was the party of the light on the first full moon night in the ancient city that has the glory of the past which will never fade.

Yuanxiao with sweet sesame filling

Of course, no Chinese festival would be regarded as complete without its special theme food, and there can be no exception with the Lantern Festival. The soup of sticky rice balls typically stuffed with sweet sesame filling called yuanxiao (元宵) or tangyuan (汤圆) are commonly consumed on the occasion.

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A Suzhou lady walking under street lanterns

Suzhou, a city near Nanjing, is traditionally viewed as having a delicate scholarly culture scented with a sweet female flavour; and this female aroma is particularly apparent during the lantern festival, the biggest Valentines Day in Chinese calendar.

Tang Ying (唐寅), a Suzhou poet of Ming Dynast, had a famous line depicting the night with the lanterns:


When spring arrived the land transformed
The ladies were prettier as if jade-made

The Lanterns lit under the moonlight
The moon glowed like a silver pendant

More verses about the Lantern Festivals in ancient times:


So many beauties along the rivers
On the tender night of the lanterns.


At the time of dusk
When the moon at the willow tip
We shall meet
As we expect


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