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Foreign Tourists Flock to Torch Festival in SW China

Bullfighting, cockfighting, horse-racing, wrestling and beauty-contest are all part of the Torch Festival held in southwest China, which has attracted thousands of foreign tourists.


"It's amazing to see these traditional activities of the Chinese ethnic minorities," said Cathy Cox, who brought her family from Colorado in the United States to Butuo, a small county in Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture of Yi Nationality in Sichuan Province, to take part in the annual carnival which began on Wednesday.


"It's genuine and special, different from performances in tourist resorts, " said Bill Cox, Cathy's husband.


The Torch Festival, which falls on June 24 - according to the Lunar Calendar of the Yi nationality -- every year, is the most important traditional holiday of Yi people.


During the festival, people burn torches for three days and nights to drive away insects from eating crops.


Meanwhile, Yi villagers also sacrifice pigs and cows during memorial ceremonies for their ancestors. In the evening, they walk around their fields with torches, and gather around bonfires, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments.


Similar to Valentine's Day, the Torch Festival also provides the opportunity for young people to select their "Mr. and Mrs. Right".


According to the tradition, the man will send sweets to the "lady of his heart". If the subject of his wooing takes a shine to him, she will eat the sweets and buy him a bottle of alcohol. Then the two people will go and hide in the nearby cornfields after dancing and singing.


"This is quite similar to Valentine's Day in the United States, except that we buy chocolates for the girls," said Phil Yochum, fiance of Cathy's daughter, adding that "the flaring torches make it more romantic".


The distinctive Yi dress and silver ornaments worn by Yi women also captivated the tourists.


The Yi women in Butuo traditionally wear silver head dresses. Some of them can weigh up to 15 kilograms and are worth 10,000 yuan (US$1,250). Clayton Ryon from Tennessee said, "I would love to order some as presents for my girlfriend."


Liangshan is one of the two Yi autonomous prefectures in China. The other one is the Chuxiong Autonomous Prefecture of Yi nationality in neighboring Yunnan Province.


(Xinhua News Agency July 22, 2006)

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