Kaiding Festival is a traditional festival celebrated by the people of Yu’Er village in Shekou, Nanshan District, Shenzhen. The villagers originate from Haifei County, also located in Guangdong province, from which they immigrated. The culture of holding the Kaiding Festival is an old custom of Shanwei (formerly Chaoshan). During the ancient times when the people of Yu’er still lived in Haifei, they had a custom of celebrating the first birthday of a male child around the 15th of January of the Lunar calendar. One of the practiced customs included the lighting of red lanterns, which were then hung up on the doorstep of either the assembly hall or the house of the people.
This practice was usually performed during the lighting of incense and candles at the holy altar. They wish for fertility, particularly of baby boys. This process is called “Hanging the Lantern”. Then they invite the elderly, relatives, and friends to serve Kaiding Tea (locally called Cai Tea) to celebrate the birth of the child. As a result, the custom of holding the Kaiding Festival and drinking Kaiding Tea on the 13th of January (Lunar) was formed. The ancestors of Yu’er village had suffered any hardships upon their immigration to Shekou around a century ago. They were foreigners and knew nothing of the place, and homesickness took over soon.
Despite their hardships, their families grew, and the holding of Kaiding festival became a form of congregation and celebration in an unfamiliar land, and also a method of strengthening their unity. Due to this, this custom has continued until today. The contents of Kaiding Festival evolved along with passing of time. Whereas only the birth of a boy deserved the hanging of lanterns, practicing the same custom for the birth of a girl also became acceptable. Nowadays, the festival has become an entertainment for all villagers, with every household hanging up red lanterns.
In recent years, on every 13th of January on the Lunar calendar, Yu’er village can be found with chaotically constructed, brightly colored arched gateways. The villagers themselves are found playing gongs and drums while lion dances and firecrackers happen in the background. Chinese traditional play is performed on a makeshift stage, and everyone enjoys the delightful festival. Every household brews Kaiding Tea, and welcomes friends, families, and passing strangers alike. This is a type of combination between food and tea, in which vegetables, meat, grains, tea, and soup are mixed together. When consumed, Kaiding tea brings about a special meaning to the villagers. On this day, villagers visit every house on every street, celebrating amounts themselves, often having some Kaiding tea. This practice continues until the dawn of the next day.
Brewing Kaiding Tea is a part of the cuisine in Yu’er, therefore holds a cultural value of some extent. By holding the festival, the villagers have strengthened their communication and unity with their friends, families, and neighbors. Furthermore, the festival has a usage of welcoming and integrating newcomer into the society and thus having a level of social value as well.
Kaiding Festival has a long history, and through some remaining festival conventions, we are able to study the living conditions of the people of agricultural societies. Observing from a historical point of view, the emphasis on childbirth (meaning an emphasis on life), is a meaningful task, as well as our current emphasis on deeming human as the fundaments of this world.
This piece is a translated work, translated from Chinese to English as part of the Shenzhen Nonmaterial Heritage Project of Shenzhen Polytechnic University and Shenzhen Museum.