Tulou Travel Blog

Astonishing Folk Custom in Yongding

“Zuo Da Fu” Celebration

“Zuo Da Fu” Celebration is a folk custom of Tulou Hakkas, in which a grand banquet is held to express their expectation for a peaceful and prosperous year to come.


“Zou Gu Shi” Celebration

“Zou Gu Shi” is the traditional Hakka folk custom, which is a Hakka ceremony that chooses a child who was pretended an ancient officer and stand on a wooden board and held by people. The whole march takes 3 hours on the 15th morning of the Lantern Festival. According to the concept of the clan, each family will provide a wooden board named “Da Zong”. Each family will try their best to run fast as the march begins and which family will be a winner if they arrive at the destination firstly and it means the whole family will be luckier around the coming year.


The lunar New Year 

The lunar New Year is the most important holiday for the people of the earthen buildings. In general, beginning with the 20th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, the families in the earthen buildings start counting down to New Year’s Eve. They do a thorough cleaning and make purchases for the New Year. The 23rd is the day that “the god goes up to heaven.” The kitchen god goes to heaven to make his annual report to the Jade Emperor. Naturally, all the families hope the kitchen god will make a good report, so they light incense and candles and make offerings. The kitchen god accepts the offering, and of course he will “go up to heaven and make a good report, and return to earth to ensure safety for the family.” This makes everyone happy. The festival begins on the 25th. All the families make New Year’s cakes, fry dumplings, buy fish and meat, and slaughter chickens and ducks: they are extremely busy. On New Year Eve, large red couplets are pasted on the main entrances. Each family also pastes New Year’s couplets on its own door. Then they go to the ancestral hall to warship their ancestors. When it is dark, they turn on the lights, and each family starts eating the New Year’s dinner in its own kitchen. The adults’ toasts and the children’s merry shouts blend together. The entire earthen building is like one large festive banquet. Nowadays, a lot of people in the cities go to restaurants for their New Year’s dinner. Actually, if possible, they should go to earthen buildings. While eating at one’s own table, one also hears the excitement next door. That is really festive.

 At midnight, the time when the New Year and the old tear meet, the building’s elders lead all of the men to stand solemnly and respectfully in the entrance, while mumbling felicitous words, the elders slowly open the main entrance. After that, they place sacrifices in front of the entrance and select an auspicious direction for everyone to burn incense and pray to the gods. They prey for blessings for the entire building. At dawn, the elders set up the incense-burner table in the ancestral hall, and hang up representations of the ancestors. Then they lead all the young men of the building to bow to the ancestors as a New Year’s greeting. Ordinarily, the elders keep the ancestors’ likenesses hidden away. It is only during Spring Festival that they are brought out and hang up. Naturally, the junior generation feels this is novel and mysterious. At this time, the elders must tell stories about the hardships the ancestors endured while carving out their future. Curious about this long history, the younger ones sometimes ask some naïve questions. The elders always answer them earnestly. This is a very lively “lesson in the history of the building” that greatly strengthens the clan’s cohesiveness.

 After making their obeisance to the ancestors, the members of the junior generation show their reverence to the senior generation, and then those of the same generation show their respect to each other. After breakfast, the senior generation takes the males of the junior generation to pay New Year’s calls at all of the other earthen buildings in the village. On New Year’s Day, even the most industrious people do no work. The day before, all the meals were cooked, the water fetched, and the floors swept. People do nothing on New Year’s Day but enjoy themselves to the fullest.


The Lantern Festival

 Another exciting holiday for the people of the earthen buildings is the Lantern Festival. Each earthen building has a procession of lanterns. The lantern leading the procession is like a signboard with the family name on one side of it and the building’s name on the other side. There are lion dances, acrobatics, people carrying baskets of flowers, and bands. Everyone in the procession is from the building’s junior generation. All the people pitch in, aiming to gain the most applause for their building’s lantern show.


On Qingming [the Chinese Memorial Day], people pay their respects at the tombs and worship the ancestors. The people of the earthen buildings have always attached great importance to this. The offerings are purchased with income from the clan’s public land. If that isn’t enough, the men from the whole building each pay an equal share, which is always a small amount-even today, it is only about a quarter of a yuan. The main point of this is to remind everyone that they are all descended from a certain ancestor. After worshipping the ancestors, everyone sits around the tomb. As they consume the edible offerings, they listen to the elders talk. It’s a harmonious time.

Making glutinous rice cakes 

Other important holidays here are the Beginning of Spring, the Waking of Insects, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Festival of the Ghosts, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Double Ninth Festival, and the Winter Solstice. Another noteworthy one is that after the spring and summer sowing and again after the harvest, the people make glutinous rice cakes; this is a custom handed down through the generations. Whether it’s been a good harvest or not, they make these rice cakes every year; it seems that it has evolved into a holiday.

 Each earthen building has a few old rice-cake mortars and also rice –cake hammers used by the ancestors. The steam the glutinous rice in a rice steamer; then, while it is still hot, they pour it into the mortar. Time after time, a man presses it down with a rice-cake hammer to make the glutinous rice stickier and thicker. Then he begins swinging a hammer and striking it. It is very rhythmic. When the hammer is rising, there has to be a woman on the side who deftly grabs the rice adhering to the hammer. Striking makes the rice stickier and more pliable and the stickier and more pliable the rice becomes, the harder it is to strike it. It is a challenge and a test for an adult male. Without an indomitable spirit, it is possible to succeed. At the same time, he and the woman must work well together so that he won’t accidentally hit her hand. It is said that quite a long time ago, the elders deliberately told a newly married couple to make the rice cakes; from that, they could tell whether they were well matched. After finishing this, they add some sesame seeds, peanuts, and brown sugar. The result is soft, aromatic rice cakes. At night in the village of earthen buildings, the sound of making rice cakes rises and falls; it is resounding. When they hear this sound, children’s mouths water, and adults have high hopes for good harvests in the next year.

Puppet show 

When night falls, and gongs sound in the earthen building, and it seems that each sound is more urgent than the one before, everyone knows that it’s time for a puppet show to begin.

People in the earthen buildings have enjoyed puppet shows for hundreds of years. Even though nowadays they can get TV programs on more than 10 channels, they are still passionate about puppet shows. There are numerous puppet troupes offering road shows in the southwestern Fujian earthen buildings. Most are family troupes made up of four or five persons. During the slack farming season, they are retained to go from village to village. Stages are set up in the courtyard of the earthen buildings.

The stages are small, and generally are built of fir planks. The front faces the ancestral hall or may be built inside the ancestral hall. More elaborate stages might also have a couplet: “A thousand years of stories in a short time; thousands of miles of scenery in a small place.” At the entrance to the stage is a colorful embroidered curtain. In the center of the stage is a cloth screen three high and four feet long. The puppets enter the stage from the right and leave from the left. The puppeteers stand behind the screen. They hold the strings in the left hand and manipulate them with the right hand. In general, three or four people can manipulate the strings to perform a complete drama of historical stories with all kinds of roles. The background music is very important. Various traditional musical instruments are used-small gongs, small drums, touxian, sanxian, erhu, dulcimer, the vertical bamboo flute, horn, flute, and the like. There are usually only three or four musicians. The ensemble’s music is grand and fervent. Whenever the music stars, all the people-old and young-rush to the stage. Without exception, the puppet shows are performed in ancient costumes. Everyone is familiar with most of the stories. A lot of older people know without looking what’s coming next. Most of them close their eyes a little and listen, moving their heads in time with the music, immersed contently in a world of their own. The children, though, love to sneak up and lift the curtain: they are engrossed as they watch the nimble fingers of the puppet masters and the shapes of their lips when they sing. They’re not much interested in the stories, no matter how earthshaking they might be. It’s the exciting atmosphere that captivates them.

When the people of the earthen buildings put on puppet shows, if it is an ancestor or a god’s birthday (for example, Guanyin’s birthday or Mazu’s birthday), each family pays an equal share of the cost. If an individual invites a troupe to perform in order to offer thanksgiving to a god, or to celebrate a new baby’s birth or his son’s achievement in his studies, then he pays the entire sum. These days, it costs three or four hundred yuan for one evening of puppet shows. This isn’t very costly, and it gives a lot of pleasure to the people of the whole building and other nearby buildings. This is probably why puppet shows have flourished for so long.


Sharing foods 

It’s the custom for people living in the earthen buildings to share their food. This gives people a warm feeling. In an earthen building, if one family cooks something delicious, the rest of people in the building will certainly smell the aroma. Thus, no one will feel comfortable enjoying it alone. They always give small bowls and saucers of it to other families, and everyone tastes it together. Of course, sometimes they think that it’s too much trouble to divide it this way, and they just tell everyone to feel free to come over and taste a few bites of it. Everyone’s standard of living is much the same within an earthen building. Today you’ll try some of our food; tomorrow, we’ll try some of yours. It’s like one big, happy family. If one family has a visitor, it’s as if all the people in the building have a visitor. They all welcome the guest with smile. At meantime, they frequently take their best food over to help treat the guest.

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