The history of color-lantern show is very long. According to the folklore exhibit of lanterns, there is another name “exhibits of flower color-lanterns”, which is a general popular traditional folk activity. The art of exhibit of lanterns is, in other word, comprehensive decoration art. The born of exhibit of lanterns originates from the procedure that human beings learn to use fire, invent lamps, make lanterns. Suiren Shi found to drill wood to make fire, then human set the fire, light the torch, which are the origin of original lamp.
With the development of social productivity, people started to use oil and wax from animal, plant and mineral to make lamp in the folk exhibit of lanterns. Zhou LI·Si Hengshi records, when there was great events in the country, people would set candle lamps to light up the courtyard and the candle lamps glittered like stars in the sky. The record proves that there was candle lamp back in Zhou Dynasty. The manufacturing techniques developed fast in Warring States Period. It was recorded in the Songs of Chu: the candles which were made of blue oil were put in the copper candlestick. In Han Dynasty, here comes the great prosperity of copper lamps. It was recorded in the Miscellany of the Western Capital that: Han emperor came into the Xianyang Palace. There were 5-branch lamps made of sapphire which were 7 chi 5 cun high, with a hydra below holding a lamp in its mouth. Its scale and shell moves when the lamp is lighted and it looks like stars glittering in the sky. In Tang Dynasty, flying the lamps on the lantern festival became unprecedented lantern market. There was wheel lantern which was 20 zhang high in capital city and decorated with brocade, damask and gold and silver. When 50 thousand of lamps lighted together, it looked like a flower tree bloomed. Since then, the flower-decorated lamps gets more and more popular all over the country. In Song Dynasty, flower-decorated lamps ushered its peak and there were different styles that you cannot imagine and have never seen before. It was recorded in the Dong Jing Meng Hua Lu that, Bianjing(Kaifeng) palace was decorated like a lamp mountain and there were different modeling lamps such as Puxian, Manjusri Buddha riding lion and white elephant and so on.
Speaking of the history of exhibits of lantern, Zigong has its remarkable place in it. It is a long history of Zigong exhibit of lantern. In the Chunxi period of Southern Song Dynasty(A.D. 1174), the great poet Lu You who was the county magistrate of Rongzhou (now Rongxian) wrote the famous verse that I’ve just said goodbye to the Qin Lou and now here comes the new spring and people started to fly the lanterns again. According to the Rongxian Zhi：the new-year exhibit of lantern was very popular in Rongxian… The view on the tower is the best and the county people called it pavilion. There were several pavilions in a city, which has various styles and several floors high. The external wall of the tower is full of sculpture combing with great hand-writings and colorful paintings, which was embed with lanterns like stars in the sky. And there were 400-500 lanterns in a pavilion which was absolutely magnificent. Visitors from the west saw the scene and surprised because they never saw this before even in the capital city. At first, the exhibits of lanterns in Zigong were held by ancestral temples. When the festivals came, the temples would light the red lanterns and set off the firecrackers and fireworks in the Lantern Festival. The religious believers would donate rapeseed oil to the temples and watch the fun in order to pray the god’s blessing.
There were statistical material that there were 1208 ancestral temples in Zigong district such as Rongxian Giant Buddha Zen Temple which was started building in Tang Dynasty, Fushun Shengguo Temple which was built in Ming Dynasty, Laiya Temple, Lingying Temple and so on. It’s easy to see that the lantern festival activities were widely spread and prosperous among the Zigong folk.
In the period of Ming and Qing Dynasty, the exhibits of flower lantern was particularly popular. There were more styles and varieties and also the scale grew larger. The primary exhibits of lantern festivals in this period were, floating the river lantern, buffalo lantern, Kongming lantern, lion lantern. What’s more, there was an popular activity that lighting the red lantern to worship the kitchen god among the folk. On the Chinese New Year’s Eve (lunar calendar the twelfth moon,30), each family will light a red lantern, even the poor one will hang a red-paper lantern in the front door ; and the mid-class family will hang a square eave lantern or hexagon palace lantern; the rich one will hang the round gauze lantern to show their respect to the kitchen god as well.
The most popular lantern were palace lantern and gauze lantern. These lanterns had rich themes and well-made. The bamboo and wood were used to make frame and red silk, cloth, paper could be made into lantern shell. The palace lantern and gauze lantern which rich family hanged in the hall and at the gate were made elaborately. Some of them were decorated with colorful spike and some other were written with poem. The gauze lantern is like a globe because 3 pieces of phyllostachys pubescens strips were pinned as a tripod. When it was hanged, 3 legs were separated so it 3 chi lift-off the ground. And when the 3 legs were pulled together, it can be hanged with hands. The gauze lantern were more widely user than the palace lantern back then. In the vaudeville such as playing the dragon lantern, lion lantern, flower lantern, gauze lantern were frequently used as the backup dancers tool.
During the exhibit of flower lantern in Zigong district, people often saw the dancers playing the dragon lantern, which also called dragon lantern dance and it started on the New Year’s Day of the Chinese lunar calendar and ended on the first moon,16.
The dragon lantern divides in cloth gown dragon lantern, big dragon lantern, grass dragon lantern and wooden bench dragon for play. The cloth gown dragon is usually played by 12-13 dancers and it has Wuzhen which plays dragon classics and Wenzhen which sing and guess the riddle word. The skills are changeful and the dragon body is flexible. The body of big dragon lantern consists of 15 joints, in which can light a fire candle. The dragon head is 15 kilograms. When plays, each joint is held by a dancer and often it plays in “Zhi” Chinese character or “S”. The contiguous lantern light is a magnificent spectacular. The grass dragon lantern is weaved of reed which is exclusive in Zigong. It plays by 5-7 dancers and looks also flexible and vivid as well. The wooden bench dragon lantern is that the dragon head is on one side of the bench and the dragon tail is on the other side of the bench. In order to convey the dragon’s alert and resourceful, this kind of dance is often played by 2 brothers because of the born-given privity.
The lion lantern dance has a long history in Zigong district. The dancers used to be called Bangda Team. Those team were run in the family, who can not only play the lion lantern, but somersault, jump through the fire ring and climb up the high pole, which were entertaining and comedic and the audience burst their sides with laughter. Therefore, the lion lantern show often lasts a week or even longer, which has a tremendous impact in the southern Sichuan area.
he buffal lantern dance is a kind of popular lantern dance in the county area of Sichuan. It is usually played by a cowherd holding a red candle lantern who plays leading, riding, teasing, feeding and showing tender to the buffalo; the buffalo player plays eating grass, drinking water, jumping and some other naïve action along with the lantern in the cowherd’s hand. The whole performance is vivid and humorous. This kind of lantern dance takes place not only in Spring Festival, but in the wedding, funeral, thrash, transplant and some other important lunar solar terms.
In the late Qing Dynasty and the period of Republic of China, the exhibits of lantern has more kinds of activities, such as cross the sea under camouflage, holding lanterns etc.
The traditions that visiting the exhibits of lantern and making lanterns are inherited among the folk, which is the rudiment of Zigong exhibits of lanterns.
After the new China was founded, the exhibit of lantern art has made a significant progress. Especially with the development of China’s science and technology, more and more styles appears in Zigong exhibits of lantern. The traditional lantern-making skills are combined with modern science technology closely. New techniques and skills have been adopted in the manufacturing of exhibits of lantern such as, electricity, architecture, machinery, remote control, acoustics，light-guide fiber etc. The combination of style，color，light，sound and mobility, meanwhile, the combination of thinking，knowledge，entertaining and art，make Zigong exhibits of lantern-the old art，more bright and colorful.