Every year, during the Lantern Festival, the Chinese village of Nuanquan hosts one of the most spectacular pyrotechnics show in the world. Called Da Shuhua (Chinese for “tree flower) the tradition involves experienced blacksmiths showering themselves with molten iron.
Da Shuhua is believed to have originated over 300 years ago, when local blacksmiths came up with a unique alternative to fireworks. The rich would always celebrate New Year with fire crackers, but poor blacksmiths could not afford them, so they had to rely on their to find a cheaper alternative. Inspired by iron striking, the blacksmiths started melting iron at temperatures of around 1,000 degrees Celsius and throwing it at a large stone wall to create an effect similar to fireworks. In contact with the cold stone, the splashed molten iron would generate beautiful iron flowers that rained down on the brave blacksmiths.
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The effect was so spectacular that Da Shuhua gradually gained more appeal than fire crackers, and people started donated all their scrap metal to be used in the fiery celebration. Throwing molten iron soon became a tradition in Nuanquan and even gave birth to a popular local saying: “The rich play with fire crackers and the poor perform Da Shuhua.” Over the years the celebration evolved into an even more amazing display, as the blacksmiths started experimenting with other metals, like copper and aluminium, to create green and white flowers instead of just red.
Photo via Beijing Hikers
Da Shuhua is usually performed in the evening. The metals are melted in a furnace and placed in special containers at the base of a 10-meter high, 30-meter long city wall built in an ancient style. The performers, wearing thick protective clothing made of sheep skin and straw hats, stir the molten iron with wooden ladles dipped in water for three days in preparation for Da Shuhua. The ladles are just two centimeters thick, but as soon as they come into contact with the burning hot metal, a thin layer of coal forms on them so they are not destroyed during stirring. At the end of the celebration, members of the audience scramble to buy the ladles for their collections.
Photo via Beijing Hikers
After the molten iron has been properly stirred, the blacksmiths start to splash it on the high stone wall and it explodes in a mesmerizing sea of sparkles. Having molten iron rain down on you may be visually stunning for the audience, but it’s life-threatening for the performers. Wearing modern protective gear has been discussed in the past, but ultimately dismissed for the sake of tradition. Amazingly, no one has ever perished or even been severely burned during Da Shuhua, but that’s mostly due to the skill of the performers.
Today, there are only four Da Shuhua performers in Wei Xian province, three of them over the age of 40, but judging by the popularity of this fiery tradition, they will find young blacksmiths to pass on their knowledge to and keep Da Shuhua alive.
Da Shuhua takes place on the 15th day of the New Year celebrations.