Happy New Lunar Year! Here’s to the fire roosters in our midst. Leroy and I are in Nuanquan, a small village in HeBei Province, 140km north-west of Beijing. Which, if we’d had to drive it, would have taken around four hours on icy, winding roads. Luckily Leroy and I were able to arrive on the very edge of the town without startling anyone.
We’ve just spent a freezing (freezing!) and utterly exhilarating night celebrating with the locals the way they have for the last 500 years. The only hiatus occurred during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) when this event, like many things, was banned by Mao Tse Tung.
A village of blacksmiths unable to afford New Year fireworks, the people devised their own – Da Shuhua (‘beating trees into flowers’). Iron is heated in small pots to 1000 degrees centigrade and flung by hand through the air at a high wall, creating a spectacular display. They now mix copper and aluminium into the mix for complexity, adding green and white tones to the fiery reds.
I was convinced someone was going to go up in flames, but the four remaining blacksmiths were consummate experts. That’s the thing; there are only four men left in the village who know how to do this and they’re all over 40. Know anyone up for an apprenticeship?