In a stunning visual portrayal of the traditional Shehuo festival in northern China, photographer Zhang Xiao captures the surreal blend of rural life and mythical characters during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
The festival, deeply rooted in ancient agricultural practices of fire and earth worship, involves villagers donning elaborate costumes resembling cranes, roosters, and legendary creatures while partaking in rituals and performances to pray for good fortune and bountiful harvests.
Known for its vibrant displays and processions, Shehuo festivities have been recognized as intangible cultural heritage by the Chinese government, despite the challenges posed by modernization and urbanization.
Zhang’s latest work, titled ‘Community Fire,’ immortalizes this fading tradition through a series of photographs taken over a decade in Shaanxi and Henan provinces, showcasing the juxtaposition of traditional customs with the influx of mass-produced merchandise now prevalent at the festival.
Witnessing the shift from handmade craftsmanship to cheap, commercialized products, Zhang laments the loss of artisanal skills and cultural significance in the festival’s modern context.
While some villages like Huozhuang have seized economic opportunities by embracing online commerce platforms such as Alibaba‘s Taobao to sell Shehuo paraphernalia, the shift has come at the cost of traditional craftsmanship.
Through his lens, Zhang captures not just the visual splendor of the Shehuo festival but also the underlying tensions between preserving cultural heritage and succumbing to commercialization in a rapidly evolving China.
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