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'Dry boat' helps keep tradition afloat

By Yang Feiyue | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-03-01 07:41

Villagers work on the body of the dry dragon boat, a local intangible cultural heritage in Xiaojiafang town, Shaowu city, Fujian province. ZHANG ZHISHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Unique celebration, rooted in history, highlights village's enthusiasm for the holiday, Yang Feiyue reports.

In Jiangshi village in Xiaojiafang town, Xie Kelong was busy preparing the bamboo needed to make the village's distinctive dry dragon boat ahead of the Lantern Festival.

"We have to use best quality Moso bamboo and start preparing a month before the festival," says Xie, who used to be director of the cultural station in the town located to the southwest of Shaowu, a county-level city in the north of Fujian province.

The boats are known as "dry "because they are not made to enter the water but rather to play an important cultural role.

Now in his 70s, Xie used to scour streets, alleys and mountains in search of intangible cultural heritage materials, especially for the historical records and techniques for the dragon-boat making.

Over the past four decades, he has refined the craft, which originated some 600 years ago in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) period.

During the early hours of the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first lunar month (which fell on Saturday this year), about 60 to 70 villagers gather to burn the midnight oil at the local ancestral hall to finish the making of the giant boat, which is about 6 to 8 meters in length and 3 to 4 meters in height, in one go.

"This involves paper-cutting, bamboo molding and assembly,"Xie explains.

"The boat comes out magnificently, and its shape and features are distinctive of the north of Fujian province."

Once it is finished, the boat greets visitors at the break of dawn and is then carried door to door, in a symbolic gesture of spreading blessings, before being burned that night to signify the sending of the dragon back to the heavens.

About 3,000 to 4,000 visitors from neighboring villages come to enjoy the auspicious moment.

This year, many young people have signed up to learn to make one of the boats with Xie.

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