When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, young and old alike are glued to the night sky, admiring the spectacular fireworks. Don’t we all want to help light those fireworks and paint the most beautiful images onto the dark night sky? This was also the opinion of a group of blacksmiths in the Chinese town of Nuanquan. As a result, they brought fireworks to a whole new level.
While the rest of China celebrates the Lunar New Year with traditional firecrackers and rockets, a small village east of Beijing puts on a show, unlike anything. The daredevil smiths throw molten iron against a wall, creating a firework-like downpour of sparks.
Da Shuhua, or the Festival of Lights, is a 300-year-old annual festival created by blacksmiths who wanted to join in the annual Chinese New Year festivities but couldn’t afford the luxury of customary fireworks displays.
Da Shuhua was their do-it-yourself approach to being priced out of the celebration. Undercover of darkness, blacksmiths in the village of Nuanquan, located in the Hebei region, tossed cupful of molten iron against the city gate, hard and chilly in the winter air. The result was a stunning shower of blooms resembling huge luminous flowers, which gave rise to the festival’s name (which translates to “tree flower”).
The exceedingly dangerous and insane tradition of tossing liquid metal heated to 1,000 degrees centigrade at the old city wall with nothing but sheep fur and straw hats for protection continues to this day in a city formerly known for its smiths’ culture. Although the display began simply by casting iron against the wall and leaving a thin coating visible all year, later experiments included incorporating aluminum and copper into the molten display, resulting in green and white tones intermingled among the blazing red of the iron.
Only four Da Shuhua performers remain in Nuanquan, despite creating an out-of-this-world celebration that is unlike anything else on the planet. Worse, the bulk of these men are above the age of 40, putting the tradition’s future in jeopardy.
Given its endangered future, there is no better moment than now to catch a glimpse of Da Shuhua’s beauty before the public is fooled into believing fireworks are the most incomparably beautiful manifestation of fiery magic in the world.