This Friday (April 12th, 2013 CE) is the third day of the third month in the Chinese lunar calendar. There are a number of different festivals which fall upon this date:
- Birthday of Huang Di: Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, is the legendary ancestor of all Chinese people. He is credited with the invention of agriculture, animal husbandry, shelter, clothing, carts and boats, and the calendar; his wife Leizu is said to have taught people how to use silk, and his minister Cang Jie created the first written script (Deng 77).
Here is a link to a Xinhua article from 2006 reporting on that year’s observance of Huang Di’s birthday. Over 10,000 people, “including 3,000 from overseas,” were said to be in attendance.
- Birthday of Zhen Wu: Zhen Wu is known by many other titles and names, including Bei Di, Xuan Tian Shang Di, and Xuan Wu. I wrote a little bit about him previously. I cannot find details on the internet about the formats of rituals dedicated to him, but as he is one of my most honored gods, celebrating his birth will be a big part of Friday for me.
- Shangsi Festival: Deng Ming-Dao describes Shangsi as an “ancient festival for picnics, picking orchids, dispelling bad luck, and ritual cleansing” (77). The name originates from the sexagesimal (based on sixties) system of calculating dates, according to Cultural China:
In ancient times, the first Si day (according to the year numbering system by the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches) was called “Shangsi” and celebrated as a festival. Most of the time, March 3rd of the lunar calendar happened to be a Si day. So, after the Wei and Jin Dynasties, the Shangsi Festival was set on the third of lunar March and renamed “the March 3rd Festival” [Sanyuesan].
Cleansing to prevent disease, fertility and possibly finding partners seem to have been the major aspects of the festival:
Originally [Shangsi] was more focused on religious activities to ward off disaster and keep evil spirits at bay as well as to pray for having children. The activities included sacrificial rituals in honor of Goddess Gao Mei, “Fu Xi” (a bathing ritual) and get-togethers attended by young men and women etc.
Gao Mei is the Goddess of Marriage and Childbearing. People would pray her for childbearing through sacrificial rituals. Meanwhile, “Fu Xi” [not to be confused with the god Fuxi] was carried out to get rid of ailments by bathing. It was believed to cure women’s infertility. And get-togethers through spring outings provided a chance for young men and women to get to know each other and to seek future significant others. Such gatherings were also aimed at marriage and childbearing. In addition, activities like floating eggs, dates and wine cups on the river were also held.
The floating of wine cups continued to be a popular part of the Sanyuesan Festival, as we shall see below.
- Sanyuesan simply means “Third Month Third,” and as quoted above seems to be the successor to the Shangsi festival of antiquity. A popular game during the Wei and Jin Dynasties was Qu Shui Liu Shang (曲水流觞), which involved floating cups of liquor down a stream and drinking whenever one of the cups came to rest (or perhaps just slowly passed) in front of where one was sitting. The game is described here.
One of the most famous works of the calligrapher Wang Xizhi was the Preface to the Poems of the Orchid Pavilion, which were compiled in a very unique manner: over forty poets gathered on Sanyuesan to play Qu Shui Liu Shang, and every time someone drank from a cup, that poet had to recite or improvise a poem. Wang Xizhi wrote the preface while drunk; the next day, he tried to make a neater copy, but couldn’t outdo the quality of his calligraphy the day before (Deng 86).
Here is a picture of a contemporary revival of Qu Shui Liu Shang:
- Ethnic Festivals: The Tujia, Zhuang, She, Buyi and Li peoples all have their own customs for this day as well, which include special foods, songs and dances. The She people, for instance, cook wufan: sticky rice dyed with plants to appear black or dark blue.
Sources: Webpages I used are linked to within the post. Typically I would try to use more academic sources, but the ways that multiple sources corroborate one another (when they aren’t just all copy-and-pastes from the same wikipedia article) can give some indications towards items of interest, at least.
Deng-Ming Dao. The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons. New York: HarperOne, 2013.
Image Credits: Picture of Huang Di is by Zhang Wenxian of the REALIA project, with permission.
Picture of Zhen Wu is from a “hidden hillside shrine” on Mt. Wudang, taken by Michael Saso.
Pictures of people playing Qu Shui Liu Shang and of wufan are from the page on Sanyuesan at Absolute China Tours.