Da Shuhua （打树花）
Da Shuhua is a 300-year-old tradition practiced during the lantern festival in Nuanquan town, Hebei province. It has been selected as the provincial cultural intangible heritage. Performers throw over 1,000 degree molten iron onto the cold brick of the city gate which, creating sparks, like thousands of fire flowers, that burst into the sky. This visual show is where the name Da Shuhua (tree flower) came from.
A Shuhua square was built in Nuanquan town, where a huge platform stands. The background of the platform is a 10-meter high, 30-meter long city wall in an ancient style, while one side of the platform sits a burning furnace. Before the molten iron is ready, actors perform the lantern dance, folk dance, gong and drums on stage. When the performances are over, Shuhua performers come to the spotlight.
Da Shuhua performance usually begins in the evening. Due to the danger posed by the over 1,000 degree molten iron, the performers are always experienced and brave men. Performers dress in sheep fur and straw hats to avoid the splash of hot metal. They put the hot metal into a special container and stir it using a wooden ladle. The ladle is dipped in water for three days for the preparation. As performers put the ladle into the molten iron, flames shoot up instantly. Meanwhile, the performer quickly splashes the molten iron onto the city wall. When the hot metal hits the firm wall, the wall seems to explode in a flaming sea of sparkles. The spectacular scene wins loud applause from audiences. As the second and third ladles of hot metal follow each other, the evening becomes bright under the light of fire flowers. When taking a closer look at the wall, you may find that the surface of the wall has been covered with a thin layer of iron. The wooden ladle used by the performers of Da Shuhua is two centimeters thick. When placed into the 1,000 degree hot metal, a thin layer of black coal is formed on the surface of the ladle in just a short period of time so the ladle will not be destroyed. After the performance, audiences scramble to buy the ladle for collection.
It is said there were many blacksmith shops in Nuanquan town at one time. When Chinese New Year came around, rich people would buy fire crackers to celebrate the New Year, but blacksmiths could not afford them. However, blacksmiths were inspired by the iron striking. So they splashed the hot metal onto the city wall, generating beautiful iron flowers. The iron flowers attracted more and more people, and gradually its appeal surpassed the fire crackers. To pray for a good harvest, commoners voluntarily donated their scrap iron and coal to perform Da Shuhua. It soon became a tradition in Nuanquan town. It has been said, “The rich play with fire crackers and the poor perform Da Shuhua.” At first, people only employed molten iron for the performance, but copper and aluminum were eventually added to the performance to produce green and white flowers instead of only red.
Today there are four Da Shuhua performers in Wei Xian and three of them are over the age of 40. At present, they are experimenting with different metals, expecting to produce a more colorful performance.
Nuanquan town lies in the west part of Wei Xian. As the spring never freezes in winter and steam flows above the spring, it was named Nuanquan (warm spring) town. In the town, there are various architectures which were built in the Liao (916-1125), Yuan (1271-1386), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, and incorporate the cultures of Confucius, Buddhism and Taoism. The town is the only “Chinese historical and cultural town” in Hebei province. The most attractive part of the town is not the warm spring but the Da Shuhua. One month before the Chinese Spring Festival, the whole town is crowded with people in a festival mood.