In his book XiJinZhiJiYi, the late Yuan-dynastywriter Xiong Mengxiang described the activities of Beijing residents on the Yuan xiao Festival.In the old days lanternfairs in Beijing started on the 8th,culminated on the 13th and ended on the 17th of the first lunar month. Celebrations took place everywhere in the imperial palace and the city’s streets.


It is said that the day to worship gods of stars was the 8th when families lit lanterns at night to welcome them to descend to earth. This ritual required 49 or 108 flower-shaped lanterns made from bast-fiber paper.The lanterns were lit between 7 and 9o’clock in the evening after incense and food offerings were placed on the table.


From the 13th to the 16th families lit all lanterns in their rooms and outside the frontgate.This custom was known as“scattering lantern flowers”or“scattering small people”to repel evilspirits and bad luck in the new year.


In old Beijing, lanterns were also displayed during other festivals such as red lanterns for the Dragon Boat Festival,
sky lanterns on the no-wind day in June,lotus lanterns on the 15th of the seventh lunar month,jade rabbit lanterns on the 15th of the eighth lunar month and Kong ming lanterns again on the 9th of the ninth lunar month.


Lantern fairs became very popular in Beijing involving many commercial and celebration activities. In the Ming Dynasty,a special zone was setup for displaying lanterns outside ofthe East Prosperity Gate(Dong hua Men) where common people,merchants or officials could sell or buy lanterns. The area turned into a flourishing commercial district known as the Lantern Fair Crossing with bustling markets during the day and festive lantern displays at night.

Lantern Fair on the Yuanxiao Festival in Beijing Chaoyang Park


In the late Qing Dynasty, the art of making palace lanterns gradually evolved into a type of folk art in Beijing. As lanterns became necessary decorations for important Chinese holidays,many lantern making workshops and lantern street vendors sprang up.


Palace Lantern with Flower-bird Designs(Qing Dynasty)

As early as in the Tang Dynasty palace lanterns were already considered typical Beijing lanterns. The Ming Dynasty had a grand show-off of palace lanterns from the 24th of the twelfth lunar month to the Yuan xiao Festival in the new year.


During the Yongle Period of the Ming Dynasty,the Ming imperial court had a big turtle-shaped lantern structure built
at the Meridian Gate(Wu Men) and all imperial court ladies were asked to wear dresses of lantern motifs. The oldest
palace lanterns in the Beijing Palace Museum collections were made in the Ming Dynasty.


Beijing palace lanterns have a total of 250 styles divided into two main categories:hexagonal-shaped lanterns passed down from the Ming and Qing dynasties and flower lanterns transformed from hexagonal lanterns with carved, inlaid, engraved or painted designs.


By cnintro

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