（By Chen Zhiying）People in many places such as Baise, Nanning and Liuzhou of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have a tradition of spring cattle dance, featuring a cattle-like symbol made with bamboo and colourful cloth. As a kind of cattle culture, it can be categorized into the agricultural culture. Today, it is still preserved among the Zhuang people and remains as a kind of traditional folk entertainment activities held during the Spring Festival. Usually, in that day, villagers will gather together to watch the performance and the main character, the spring cattle, will walk along the streets to wish for good harvest in the coming year. Everywhere is imbued with festive atmosphere.
Stories behind the spring cattle dance
The origin of the spring cattle dance has many stories. It is said that in ancient times, a villager in Guangxi ran errands in the government. He noticed that local people usually entertained themselves by holding lion dance on New Year. When he returned home, an idea came to him that since there existed lion dance, then why not perform the dance with cattle. So he used bamboo, cloth and paper to make one and thus the cattle dance emerged. Another legend is that in ancient times, the cattle was essential labor force for the villagers in Guangxi, the hard work of which ensured people can have enough food and clothing. Therefore, the villagers took special care of the cattle and even worshiped them. In order to express their gratefulness, praise the contribution of the cattle, and also out of the purpose of praying for a bumper harvest in the new year, people there make paper cattle and sing and dance every year before the spring ploughing gets starting.
Turning common objects into cultural treasures
At the time, making spring cattle is pretty simple using materials like bamboo strips and paper. When making spring cattle, at the beginning, the craftsman weaved bamboo strips into the shapes of cattle, forming a basic frame. Then, they pasted paper to fill the seams between the bamboo strips and put cloth in black or gray color or cloth weaving with withered grass over the frame to cover it. After these procedures, the body of the cattle was finished. Making the head and horn also followed the same steps. However, the spring cattle made in this way was easy to be worn out and had to be repaired after just one performance. With the development of society, in order to make the spring cattle more durable and its appearance more vivid, folk artists in Guangxi innovated boldly not only in the materials but also in the color, turning ordinary objects in daily life into a cultural symbol.
Performance boasting distinctive local features
The activity of spring cattle dance in Guangxi usually starts on the seventh day of the first lunar month and ends on the third day of the third lunar month. It is mainly divided into three stages: first, offering sacrifices to and welcoming the God of cattle; second, daily performance for about two months; third, sending back the God of cattle. On the morning of the seventh day of the first lunar month, villagers in the county, under the leadership of the village elders, beat the gong and gathered together to worship the God of the cattle. At the beginning of the sacrifices, villagers lighted incense and offered tea and fruit. Then two to four male in old age had to read the sacrifice words to express their appreciation to the God’s contribution. After that, the God of the cattle was welcomed back to the village to enjoy the festival with villagers. Finally came with the most exciting part: spring cattle dance in fixed venues.
At the beginning of the performance, in the sound of drumming and suona, the dancers put on the cattle’s head carefully decorated, took on the cloth made with withered grass, and walked into the stage or just a vast grassland to meet the audience came from nearby villages and towns. The dancers paid salutation to the audience and mimicked the cattle to run, jump, sleep, pull the plow, carry things, and a bullfight will be carried out between the cattles, vividly showing the simple and honest image of the cattle and presenting a visual feast in front of the audience, thus winning their warm applause. After that, came with the singers who sang songs to pay a tribute to the cattle. There were also cowboys who wear cattle masks dancing on the stage. The whole performance included almost all the folk instruments in Guangxi such as gongs, drums, cymbals, suona, dizi, erhu, and so on, adding a strong pleasant atmosphere to the whole county.
After the sing and dance performance lasting for such a long time, the spring cattle dance was came to an end on the third day of the third lunar month. On that that day, the head of the county presided over the ceremony in the village and later sent the God of the cattle back with villagers. Along the way, they played drums, sang ballads, burned incenses, offered sacrifices, and prayed for a better year and the protection for the county. From the start to the end of the dance, people have gained festival joy with their families, and at the same time, they have also expressed their wishes for the harvest and peace in the coming year.
The spring cattle dance contains many ethnic cultural elements such as sacrifice, dance, music, martial arts, folk songs, etc. In 2017, it was listed into the third batch of the intangible cultural heritage of Guangxi. The dance not only reflects the economic situation, cultural psychology, belief and aesthetic pursuit of Zhuang nationality society from different aspects, but also enhance people’ perception and recognition of their own national culture, boasting unique cultural values.
Source: China-ASEAN Panorama