An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

2018 Lantern Festival - the international acts

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is bringing a number amazing acts to New Zealand to perform at the 2018 Lantern Festivals in Auckland and Christchurch. They include:

Lao Qiang - Chinese folk/rock music

A women singing in an expressive manner with two male musicians looking on

If you think Chinese traditional music is all about sweet melodies, think again.

Lao Qiang, the headline act at this year’s Auckland Lantern Festival, specialise in joyous, lusty folk singing that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Sometimes described as "ancient Chinese rock'n roll" Lao Qiang (Old Tune) music has been played for centuries in the countryside around Mount Hua in northwest China's Shaanxi province.

It’s believed this rousing style of music developed from the work songs of boatmen ferrying grain on the Yellow River and Wei Canal some two thousand years ago.

Traditionally played as an accompaniment to shadow puppetry, Lao Qiang music has been handed down within the same farmer families for generations. In recent times, however, the musicians have emerged from behind the puppet curtain and burst onto the national – and international – stage.

Shadow Puppets from Xi’an

Chinese shadow puppetry is said to have originated in the former Chinese capital Xi'an – then known as Changan --more than 2000 years ago.

The story goes that Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty was greatly saddened by the death of a favourite wife. To cheer him up a court official created a shadow puppet in the form of the wife, drawing his inspiration from the shadow cast by dolls as children played. The Emperor was delighted, and shadow puppetry became popular.

Popular plays tell stories of Chinese legends, battles, and mythological creatures.

In its heyday, Chinese shadow puppetry was popular in nearly every province making it one of the most wide-spread folk arts of China.  Now only 200 leather silhouette troupes are still around, down from over 1,000 nationwide in the 1980s.

Toffee Maker (Sugar painter) from Hangzhou

A woman heating toffee in a frying pan and drizzling it onto a surface to make an image

The traditional Chinese art of painting with caramelised sugar became popular in China centuries ago.

Back in the Ming dynasty, skilled street artists used moulds to shape the hot sugar mixture in differing designs.

Over time, these were replaced with a small bronze spoon which the artist uses to pour the hot sugar onto a cold surface like marble.

Because the sugar cools down very quickly, the painter has to work quickly and get the design right the first time.

Once completed, a wooden stick is sunk into the artwork to separate it from the marble slab and create a lollipop. Popular designs include the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac – this year will be the Year of the Dog.

Shanghai Xingguang Acrobatic Troupe (Mr Li Jie and Mr Zheng Yongqiang)

A male acrobat dressed in white doing a routine on a pole

Acrobats exhibiting amazing skills of strength first appeared in China in the annual harvest celebrations some 2000 years ago.

Chinese farmers and craftsmen had leisure time in the long winter months which they spent perfecting acrobatic skills, such as balancing and forming human pyramids.

The Xingguang troupe from Shanghai brings a modern twist to this ancient art with its stunning space walk act.

Throat Singer Mr Song Baihua

The extraordinary and difficult art of throat singing or Khöömei is one of the world's oldest forms of music, originating in the west of what is now Mongolia.

Throat singing is thought to have developed among herders mimicking the sounds of animals, water and the wind.

With years of practice, a throat singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through special techniques taking advantage of the throat's resonance characteristics.

Dough figurine maker from Hangzhou

A man's hands modelling a bird with a piece of yellow dough

For centuries, China’s dough figurine craftsmen have delighted children and adults with their tiny models of legendary heroes such as the Monkey King from Journey to the West.

Dough modelling is classified as a folk art, but the artist still needs to be well versed in history and culture to get all the details right.

The main raw materials in dough figurines are wheat and glutinous rice flour.

The skills required are often passed down within a family. In the past, dough modellers were itinerant craftsmen, carrying the tools of their trade in a work box on their back, going from street to street to make a living.

This ancient handicraft dates from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), when dough was modelled into fruits and animals for sacrifice to deities and ancestors.  

Find out more

6 February 2018