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Celebrating a Robin Hood-like folk hero

By Agence France-presse in Juhe, Fujian Province | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-13 08:33

 Celebrating a Robin Hood-like folk hero

Villagers carry a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in Fujian province, on Wednesday.Photos By Johannes Eisele / AFP

Carrying the golden statue of a revered ancient general, villagers in eastern China dash wildly through waterlogged fields in a mud-spattered celebration of a local rebel adored for stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Spurred on by the roar of firecrackers and cheers of families crowded on muddy banks, teams of men splash through the quagmire, in a centuries-old ceremony that was part of the lead up to the Lantern Festival on Saturday.

It is a time for colorful ceremonies in the coastal province of Fujian, where the Hakka people have long held on to their folk traditions.

At the center of the celebrations is a solemn-faced gilded effigy of Guan Gong, a Chinese general who lived nearly 2,000 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) and has been granted godlike status.

But he is not the main focus of the festivities.

For villagers here Guan Gong acts as a stand-in for a local rebel king named Zhang Lian, akin to a Robin Hood figure, who looted riches and helped the poor.

He rose up in 1560 against the corrupt Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which used its massive army to impose heavy taxes on local peasants.

After two years of fighting, the government crushed the insurrection, leading the hero to flee to Indonesia, where legend has it he eventually became king of the island known today as Sumatra.

Seeking to honor him without upsetting the emperor, Ming Dynasty peasants paid tribute to an image of Guan Gong instead.

Local families pray to the statue, light incense and sacrifice chickens, before carrying it down to the fields.

They then run through the flooded fields to the point of collapse and splash water on the statue and each other in the winter morning chill.

Stomping about in the mud is also thought to "awaken" the farmland for the coming spring and express hopes for a good harvest year.

Hu Sheng, one of the men helping carry the statue, said he traveled to the ceremony every year from the southern city of Shenzhen, where he works.

"Everyone respects Guan Gong. I must come back for this because I hope he will bless me and my family this year, and I want everyone to have a good harvest," he said.

 Celebrating a Robin Hood-like folk hero

Stomping about in the mud is believed to "awaken" the farmland for the coming spring.

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