Temple Fair: a Festive Carnival

The “temple fair” (Miao Hui) began as groups of vendors who did business near temples when many pilgrims came to pay tribute to the gods during traditional festivals. The practice grew, gradually turning into a regular carnival, and is now an important and joyful destination for Chinese people during festivals, most especially the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year.

Temple fairs in Beijing have a very long history, and saw a boom especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) as well as the Republic of China (1912-1949). Major temples all have their own festivals, some of which are held regularly. During the Spring Festival, temple fair is one of the most important activities, and a traditional cultural event that features all kinds of Chinese folk art. So far, there have been more than 10 major temple fairs held each year in Beijing.

In traditional temple fairs around Beijing, there are performances and booths demonstrating and selling traditional arts and crafts. The fairs have lots of games to play, food to eat, performances and lots of people. In the temple fair you can taste numerous kinds of local snacks, court food and other dishes. 

Most temple fairs feature dragon and lion dances, waist drum dancing, lotus blossom fairy dances, ground and clam dancing as well as other folk performances, and some even stage traditional wedding ceremonies. In rural areas, the temple fair is an excellent opportunity to capture some color in an otherwise fairly drab country. Following are some of the oldest temple fairs in Beijing.

Changdian Temple Fair Changdian has the longest history. The temple fair here first started during the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Its location, Liulichang Street, is one of the main reasons for its success. Liulichang Street was once a flourishing cultural center during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). This was where scholars, painters and calligraphers gathered to purchase materials, exchange ideas, compose poetry, write books and paint. In the modern age, the street has been transformed into an antique market that resembles a Chinese village. So, Liulichang and Changdian became the most flourishing downtown streets during the Spring Festival until the sixties.

Dongyue Temple Fair Dongyue is one of the oldest temple fairs in Beijing, starting during the Yuan Dynasty and having its heyday during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Culture of "Good Fortune (福)" has been the essence of this temple fair for three centuries.

This temple fair is held at Grand View Park, a replica of the magnificent Daguanyuan garden of an imperial family described in the well-known Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions by Qing Dynasty writer Cao Xueqin (17l5-l763). Besides the traditional temple fair events, there are usually shows of folk arts, extreme sports, Chinese kong-fu, Kaifeng Pan Drums as well as the "Two-people show" (Er Ren Zhuan) from Northeastern China.
Source: www.chinaculture.org http://china.citw2008.com/