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Folk Songs Flying in Nanning

By staff reporter JIAO FENG

Nanning International Folk Song Art Festival is one of the most important celebrations in China.  

NANNING, the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southwest China, is a beautiful city with a lively culture and centuries-old history. It is located in the south of the Tropic of Cancer and has a sub-tropical climate. Abundant sunshine and precipitation fill the city with luxuriant plant life. Its lush green landscape has earned Nanning the name of Green City.

The Zhuang is the aboriginal and major ethnic minority group residing in Guangxi. The autonomous region is also the dwelling for many other ethnic groups including Han, Yao, Miao, Dong, Mulao, Maonan, Hui, Jing, Shui, Yi, and Gelao. People of all these ethnic groups are fond of singing folk songs. The legend of a folk singer Liu Sanjie originated in Guangxi, and was made into a popular musical in the 1960s. The region has also been declared the "Sea of Folk Songs."

Every year on the third day of the third lunar month people get together to join in the traditional songfest to express their passion for life and good wishes for the future.

Besides that event, the Nanning International Folk Song Art Festival is held every year at the end of October. Initiated in 1993 it was previously known as the Guangxi International Folk Song Festival, but changed its name in 1999. The grand gala integrates folk culture and tourism and has become one of the most important celebrations in all of China.

Nanning has a diverse ethnic culture. A variety of folk activities are held all year round. Visitors are always excited by seeing embroidered ball tossing, the board shoes dance, stepping on windmills and so on.

An ideal destination for tourists, Nanning boasts abundant tourist resources. In the city, you can enjoy the harmonious scenery that combines sub-tropical nature and modernity. The city is also surrounded by a good number of scenic spots. The breathtaking scenery of Guilin can be taken in just north of Nanning. The spectacular Detian Waterfall, mysterious Huashan cliff paintings as well as the tranquil Yangmei Ancient Town also amaze visitors.

Traditional and Modern Folk Song Festivals

When the Zhuang traditional songfest commemorates Liu Sanjie it also celebrates the story that Liu attracted her husband using witty musical dialogues. As such, she is a symbol of beauty and wisdom, and the search for love by singing has become a custom.

During the songfest, countless locals dress in gorgeous robes, bring embroidered balls and snacks of glutinous rice to get-togethers on lawns, by hillsides or riversides around their villages.

Villagers of all ages actively take part in the event. They sing in pairs or in groups, competing with other groups or raising and answering questions via folk songs. Boys and girls get to know each other through musical dialogue. Provided a girl favors a boy, she will throw her embroidered ball to him as a keepsake.

The songfest usually lasts for a couple of days. Aside from singing, people also enjoy various interesting activities such as knocking painted eggs, scrambling for firecrackers and bamboo pole dancing.

Wuming County in Nanning usually hosts the grandest of all songfests. It is not only one of the most developed settlements for Zhuang ethnic groups, but also a cradle of the rich Zhuang culture. Wuming locals are renowned for their pleasant voices. They use a large variety of folk songs to express their love for their ethnic group as well as the pursuit of happiness. With distinct Zhuang features, the ballads cover diverse topics in life including history, labor, ceremonies, love and children. Many ballads have been passed down for generations.

In 2006, Liu Sanjie Ballads and the Zhuang's songfest were placed on China's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

To retain the culture and traditions of ethnic minorities, the local government has been organizing an annual folk song festival since 1993. In 2005, the festival won the top award of the International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA). Nanning is the first city in China to have received such an honor.

Artists from home and abroad present brilliant performances and since 2004, the festival has been held together with the China-ASEAN Expo. Flying Songs on Earth – the opening ceremony of the festival invites super stars to perform traditional folk songs, integrating ethnic groups' folk culture into popular music and spreading it across the world.

Friendship Pass

Friendship Pass is an ancient defense work in Pingxiang City. It is the biggest and the most important pass on the border between China and Vietnam. With a national highway running through the pass gate and a link to a Vietnamese highway, the Friendship Pass is a key land port connecting the two countries.

The pass was first built in the late 14th century during the Ming Dynasty and given the name Zhennan (Guarding the South) Pass. It is one of the nine famous passes in old China and has witnessed a number of significant events in Chinese history. In 1885, the great Qing General Feng Zicai (1818-1903) defeated French invaders and won a big victory at the Zhennan Pass. The ancient war sites are well preserved today. In 1907, Dr. Sun Yat-sen led an uprising against the Qing court in this area. On December 11, 1949, the flag of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was run up on the Zhennan Pass, symbolizing the liberation of Guangxi. During the 1960s and 1970s, China transported assistance to Vietnam via this pass so as to support its people's fight against foreign forces. As a witness to the deep friendship between the two countries, the pass was renamed Friendship Pass in 1965.

Friendship Pass boasts unique geographical advantages, standing between two hills and an important location on the border. The original structure was destroyed in battles. In 1957, a new gate tower was built on the base of the old one. The imposing tower covers an area of 180 sq meters with four stories and stands 22 meters tall. The arch in the center of the tower is ten meters high and on it hangs a white marble plaque carved with the name Friendship Pass. Inside the gate tower, visitors may learn about the great historical events of Zhennan Pass through photographs and cultural relics on display.

Today, the pass is a popular tourist attraction as well as a grade I border port. With increasing exchanges between China and Vietnam in all fields, the pass handles an ever growing flow of passengers and vehicles everyday.

Tips for Tourists:

At a distance of 160 kilometers from Nanning, Pingxiang City can be reached by a train which runs twice a day, or by the hourly buses. The Friendship Pass is 18 kilometers away from downtown Pingxiang. Taking a taxi is an ideal way to get there. Hotels of different rate levels are available in the city.

The Puzhai Border Market in Pingxiang is a good place to purchase souvenirs such as Vietnamese coffee, perfume, rosewood handicrafts and so forth. Tourists can bargain for a good price.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us