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Beijing temple fair guide 2011

01-31-2011 16:12 BJT

Temple fairs celebrate - and are in themselves - ancient customs, but they're increasingly demonstrating that traditions are anything but stagnant. There is no consensus on the process with some saying the carnivals' traditional components are dying, while others insist they are merely reincarnating into new cultural life forms. But they have been in Beijing for the longest time, and are a part of celebrating the arrival of Spring, and so, have evolved into being part of the Lunar New Year festivities.

Temple fairs celebrate - and are in themselves - ancient customs, but they're
increasingly demonstrating that traditions are anything but stagnant.(File photo)

"It's hard to say if the fairs are becoming more or less traditional, and if that's good or bad," says 69-year-old Beijinger Lin Jun, who has regularly visited the fairs for decades. "But the very fact they exist, whatever form they take, is because of tradition. That's for sure and that's a good thing."

The fairs, or miaohui, are said to hail back to ancient days, when farmers would offer Spring Festival sacrifices to village gods. They developed into marketplaces for goods and ideas, where agrarians and artisans would peddle wares and showmen would stage cultural performances.

Temple fairs grew in prominence throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), but essentially evaporated with New China's 1949 founding and were taboo during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

The country's first official miaohui after the establishment of the People's Republic was in 1985 at Beijing's Temple of Earth (Ditan) Park. Ditan continues to host the capital's busiest Spring Festival fair.

The carnivals at Ditan and Dongyue - which became the site of Beijing's first miaohui in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and hosts the only fair actually staged within a temple - largely remain true to tradition. But other fairs have been departing from historical orthodoxy, and particularly this year.

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