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Minorities in spotlight
( 2003-09-09 08:49) (China Daily)

A tall iron axle spins at high speed with two swings flying around it.

On each swing a slim young woman wearing the green costume and gorgeous ornamental headwear of the Tu ethnic group performs acrobatic stunts to the accompaniment of delightful folk music.

The capacity crowd at Yinchuan Gymnasium bursts into thunderous applause and a chorus of "Bravo! Bravo!" when the performance ends.

"I was so excited to perform for the local audience and those who came to the festival from other areas like me. I hope my performance lived up to their expectations," said Yang Quanyu, one of the two swinging acrobats, after she finished the stunt.

The 18-year-old Yang and her nine partners, all of Tu ethnic groups, came from the Huzhu County in Qinghai Province to demonstrate one of their traditional games called lunziqiu (swing on the tire) at the week-long Seventh National Ethnic Games, which kicked off in Yinchuan, capital of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on Saturday.

More than 4,300 athletes will compete in 14 events and demonstrate 128 traditional sporting games such as the lunziqiu.

Yang said the lunziqiu originates from a children's game on the tire of a hand-pulled cart. Tu children erected the axle to swing from tires suspended from it, and gradually the activity became a game to celebrate the harvest. Today it is a festival standard. The performers learn the skills from their parents and the axle no longer comes from a cart; it is specially made and colourfully decorated.

For both participants and spectators, the Ethnic Games, held every four years, is more like an ethnic people's carnival and a demonstration of multi-ethnic cultures and national unity.

The gala started with the opening ceremony at Ningxia Stadium on Saturday evening, when members of the country's ethnic groups, including ethnic minority people from Taiwan, entertained the spectators with their own unique dance numbers and games in splendid traditional costumes.

The locals of Yinchuan also impressed visitors with their performance at the opening ceremony. One of the highlights was a t'ai chi programme performed by 800 women, most aged between 60 and 70. In shining white outfits, with red fans in their hands, the women displayed their vigour and Chinese martial arts skill.

"It's an honour to perform at the opening ceremony," said 55-year-old Chen Yaqi before she and her fellows walked into the stadium. "We practised for several months and hope it will be a success." Since Saturday, the competitions - including fireworks, wood ball, wrestling, swing, kung fu, dragon-boat racing, Yagya (the Tibetan elephant tug-of-war), top-whipping and horse racing - have gone through two rounds, and demonstrations at the gymnasium and the open-air sports ground are in full swing.

Li Zhongguo, a 26-year-old gymnast of the Yi people from Chuxiong, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, thrilled the audience with a stunning performance on the balance beam. Another highlight was a game called "The Carpenter Walking on the Roof Beam," which originates from the Yi carpenters' routine work when they are building a house.

According to traditional custom of the Yi group, when the pillar and roof beam are erected, the carpenter who makes them and supervises the work must climb up the beam to see whether the work has been well done.

The game developed from the custom and has evolved to include more difficult gymnastic and acrobatic movements to imitate how the carpenter measures, planes and cuts.

On the five beams, each of which was shouldered by a pair of young men, Li Zhongguo performed with a sense of humour. The audience held its breath whenever he made a somersault and applauded after he successfully stood on the beam again.

This was Li's second appearance at the Ethnic Games. Four years ago, he amazed spectators in the Sixth National Ethnic Games held in his home province of Yunnan.

"I felt more excited and a little bit nervous to perform here compared to last time at home. But the locals warmly received and entertained us," Li said. "I was not used to the dry weather here in the first two days, but the good service in the athlete village made up for it," he said.

The 58-member Taiwan Aboriginal Art Group is representing Taiwan for the second time at the event, and Taiwan's 25 athletes represent Amoi, Taiya and Bunong people.

Although more like a dance routine, their demonstration featured the rich flavour of the Taiwan natives' local culture and customs.

Lin Zhigang, 24, a senior student from Taiwan China Culture University, said: "It's the first time for me to visit the mainland. I had not expected to see so many other minorities here. It will be an unforgettable trip for me."

Lin was born and raised in Hualian, a city in east Taiwan, where a large number of Amoi people live.

Sophian Lin, 47, artistic director of the Taiwan Aboriginal Art Group, founded the group eight years ago with Lin Zhigang and their partners to preserve and promote the traditional arts of the Amoi people.

Originally a nurse, Sophian Lin became a singer after winning a contest about 20 years ago. As an Amoi, she came to realize the importance of preserving the culture and arts of her native group and passing them down for future generations.

Apart from initiating the art group, she also taught the Amoi language in the communities.

Before coming to Yinchuan, the group performed in Beijing for a TV programme which will be broadcast on China Central TV on the Mid-autumn Festival, which this year falls on Thursday.

"We feel we were back home last evening at the opening ceremony when we stood among so many ethnic groups at the stadium," Sophian Lin said.

"At that moment, you may understand why we chose to perform to a folk song entitled 'We Are All from One Family.'"

(China Daily 09/09/2003 page9)

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