Beijing's temple fairs are ideal venues to immerse yourself in Chinese folk culture this Spring Festival holiday. There are so many traditional foods to try, fanciful toys for children, interesting goods to buy for home, and performances to watch.
Beijing's temple fairs combine a carnival atmosphere with a market. Some fairs retain their religious association and are located inside temples, while others are simply for entertainment, with markets.
Temple fairs originated in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125), and grew more popular in the following Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
There were three kinds of temple fairs. The first kind was held every month, combining trade with entertainment. The second type were fairs during important religious occasions for Buddhist and Taoist temples. The third category was specialized fairs of a certain line of business, for example, those of cooks, carpenters, or flower farmers.
Many temple fairs stopped during the "cultural revolution"(1966-76), before making their comeback in the 1980s.
Temple fairs are now mostly held only during Spring Festival, with the biggest ones at Changdian'er, Ditan Park, Dongyuemiao Taoist Temple, Baiyunguan Taoist Temple, and Longtanhu Park.
At temples, believers pray for an auspicious New Year. Meanwhile, temple fairs held at parks have become more of a combination of fancy goods, food markets, and entertainment venues. In ancient times, these fairs lasted from Spring Festival Day to the Lantern Festival which falls on the 15th day of the first month of lunar calendar. But now they last the holiday week, from February 6-12 this year.
Baiyunguan (白云观White Cloud Taoist Temple) is Beijing's largest Taoist Temple, and the earliest in history to hold a fair. There are lion dances, stilt and land boat performances, donkey riding, as well as candles, religious statues, food and toys for sale. As the headquarters of China Taoist Association, there are also Taoist religious ceremonies. 10 yuan per person. February 7-12. Baiyunguan Jie, Binhe Lu outside of Xibianmen, Xicheng District. 6344-3666.西城区西便门外滨河路白云观街.
Changdian'er (厂甸) temple fair is 400 years old, and is the place to find Chinese antiques, porcelain works, calligraphy, ancient books and paintings. It is located on a wide road at Liulichang near the antique store hub of Hepingmen. There is also a stage to perform Peking operas, as well as other traditional entertainment such as mast carrying stunts, stilts, and folk dance, besides plenty of food stands. February 6-12. Crossroad at Hepingmen, Nanxinhua Jie, Xuanwu District. 6304-2831. 北起宣武区南新华街和平门路口，向南经虎坊桥路口至虎坊路文化广场.
Ditan (地坛Temple of Earth) Park has been holding temple fairs for the past 20 years, and is one of the busiest during Spring Festival. The park will be decorated with colorful lanterns, small windmills, and traditional paintings. The food stand area has plenty of local foods such as Beijing traditional dim sum, and Sichuan snacks. People can play traditional games such as dart flying, loop throwing with trophies, and Chinese ancient sedan chair riding. There will also be performances imitating ancient Chinese emperor's sacrifice ceremony to the God of Earth. Entry costs 10 yuan per person. February 6-13. North of Yonghegong Qiao, South Second Ring Road, Dongcheng District. 6421-4657. 东城区北二环雍和宫桥北
There are also traditional temple fairs at Dongyuemiao Taoist Temple (February 6-12) located at Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, where Beijing Folk Custom Museum is located, Beijing Grand View Garden (February 7-11) in Xuanwu District, with its Dream of Red Mansion themes, and Beijing Sculpture Park (February 4-12), with a theme of Spring Festival customs in China. Beijing Chaoyang Park will hold an international cultural festival (February 7-12), which showcases foreign as well as Chinese customs. Huairou's Hongluosi Temple, a 1,600-year-old Buddhist temple, will organize a fair (February 7-12) featuring local foods and folk performances. At Chongwen District's Longtanhu Park (February 6-13), people can experience 28 Olympic sports items and vie for championship, including shooting, archery and boating.
Fireworks and firecrackers are another attraction of Spring Festival. For centuries the Chinese have lit firecrackers to greet the coming of Chinese New Year, and to celebrate important occasions such as wedding. Generations of Chinese people grew up with fond memories of setting off firecrackers in their childhood.
In 1994 Beijing and many other major Chinese cities started to ban firecrackers and fireworks, after several major fireworks accidents that cost many lives. In 2006 Beijing changed from a complete ban to a partial ban. The city bans fireworks and firecrackers within the Fifth Ring Road, with Spring Festival holiday period an exception.
This year people can set off fireworks on February 6, 11, and 21. They are allowed to set off fireworks from 7am-midnight from February 7-10, and 12-20.
Beijing has 2,196 fireworks selling points this year, including 638 stationed within the Fifth Ring Road. Most of these stores will be in temporary sheds, but people can also buy fireworks at more than 60 supermarkets including Jingkelong, Merry Mart, and Walmart. There is supposed to be one fireworks store within 500 meters from your home within the Fifth Ring Road.
Safety is a very important issue for people who love to set off fireworks. Beijing bans fireworks within 500 meters of an Olympic venue. Make sure you put the fireworks in the right position, and keep them away from people, architecture and flammable objects. Protect your eyes.
(China Daily February 2, 2008)