Fish lantern dance, a folk tradition very popular in the suburbs of southern China’s Guangdong province, has seen a revival recently thanks to a group of avid villagers. The fact that it was recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage years ago, was a booster shot in the arm for the endangered art tradition.
73-year-old Wu Guanqiu is an inheritor of the “Fish Lantern Dance”. Taking steps while carrying the lantern to make it imitate fish moves, this unique dance routine otherwise might have slipped into oblivion, without the efforts by villagers like Wu.
Now Wu has more than two hundred disciples, including art performers, teachers, college students and frontier guards. Now Shatoujiao, the rural village of Shenzhen, where the man lives, has had a performing team of 30 people. He is lovingly called Uncle Wu by villagers.
Fish Lantern Dance originated in neighbouring Fujian province in the Tang Dynasty more than a thousand years ago. It spread to the Shenzhen suburbs during the late Ming Dynasty, and soon became a fixture in new year celebrations of the fishing villages in the region.
The dance is performed by a team of about twenty men carrying the fish lanterns to imitate the lives of a group of fish, aiming to wish for peace and harvest of the local fishermen.
The dance is gaining popularity thanks to the memories kept by Uncle Wu and several of his peers. Wu even raised a group of fish to research their movement to enrich the dance. The dance, as it is now performed, includes plots of lives of fish and their fight with fish tyrants (giant and bully fish) of the sea.
The resurgence of dance was first seen in 2003 when it was performed during the mid autumn festival. It was included on the National Intangible Heritage List. Uncle Wu took his team to Australia during Spring Festival in 2013, to perform during Spring Festival activities in Sydney and was very well received.
Uncle Wu even initiated a festival in name of the dance, which has gained support from the government. It includes touring performances and exhibitions. Their recent exposure at the village was at a Children’s Day celebration held by local government.
A bright future is ahead for the art, as it has found both followers and audience in the masses.