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Paleolithic－Neolithic ages (about 2.5 million years~4000 years ago)
Fire was the totem of human ancestors.
In the history of human development, the fire brought human being into a civilized age.
Mankind experienced following stages concerning the use of fire:
First, man used natural fire and kept it;
Second, man drilled wood to make fire and kept the fire live cinder and started a new pile of fire.
Third, man stroke flint, tinder and flint steel to make fire.
In the recorded history of the development of mankind anthropoid ape could walk erectly, chisel and use simple implements and make use of fire. Fire light brought human beings into a society of fruit-gathering, animal-hunting and primitive agriculture, shedding light on the incipient civilizations of human beings.
The invention of man-made ways of making fire and the use of fire were epoch-making events in the economic activities of human beings. The use of fire was not only an essential means by which human beings could live, but an indispensable weapon with which humans unmasked the secret of mysterious material world. All the cultural relics, gathered after the discovery of the fossils of the apemen “Yuanmou Men” which were unearthed at Yuanmou County of Yuanan Province and known as the earliest primitive human species of far, testfied that ancestors of the Chinese nation had a 1.7 million-year history of using fire, which was the earliest trace of using fire in the world as well as in my country. Since then, fire with its splendid glory entered all kinds of cultures of human beings.
For the purpose of shielding wind, moving lamps and working at night, human being produced various kinds of practical lamp and lamp utensil via various vessels and fuels. Since thousands of years, human pursuit to the craftwork of lampshade has formed rich, colorful and fantastic lamp or lantern arts and laid a foundation for the lantern show.
At the earlier period of Western Han, Emperor Hanwendi stated the Jan. 15th of lunar calendar as the Lantern Festival, when he subjugated successfully the insurgency of Zhulu. Since the first Lantern Festival in Hanwudi (156B.C—87B.C.), every year at this time, emperor would offer sacrifice to the Heaven, Buddhist would light lamps to elucidate Buddhism, Taoist would sacrifice the deities Taiyi and Sanguan, common people would hold lamps and candles to chase rat, look at the silkworms and pray for big harvest and no disaster. Therefore, lamp, candle and fire gradually became scenery on the day of Lantern Festival.
The emergence of lamps and windproof lanterns in Han Dynasty facilitated the outdoor emplacement of lamps and lanterns. In ancient times, the 15th of the first lunar month was called Shang Yuan (first full moon); July 15th of the lunar month Zhong Yuan (mid full moon); October 15th Xia Yuan (last full moon). Shang Yuan was the first night with full moon in a year, so it was also named as Yuan Xiao Festival (full moon night). From the Warring States Period on, people prayed the God of Tai Yi from dush to dawn. Because of the eastward movement of Buddhism, on the night of Jan 15th in the first lunar month, bans on fire were lifted and lamps and lanterns were put outdoors all night long to symbolize the brightness of Buddhism. This was the precursor of the Lantern Festival.
In that night, the Emperors made a sacrifice to Heaven; Buddhists lit a fire to illuminate Buddhadharma; Taoists also prayed to Tai Yi and the gods in San Guan( Three Palaces); Folks also lit the candles and lamps to chase away the mice and light the silkworm in the hope of eliminating scourges and gaining a good harvest. Thus lamps, candles and fire became the essence of Shang Yuan. The Lantern Festival had its embryonic form when the wheels of time moved to the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Later it evolved into a majestic festival after Emperor Sui Yang Di took the throne.
So we can say Han Dynasty is one of the most important Dynasty for the Formation of the Lantern Festival.
Fire was the main tool when the remote ancestors trudged over a difficult way to civilization. It was fire and light that opened the heart of human beings and brought the birth to lamps. China is one of the earliest countries that made use of lamps.
With wider application of lamps, the lamps and lanterns in different dynasties have been in endless variety and of super craftmanship excelling nature. They radiate the wisdom of Chinese nationality. As more and more carnivals in Spring Festival were developed, spring festival culture initiated. Particularly, lantern shows and lantern festivals contributed a great deal to the cultural accumulation of China. The distinct lantern culture brightened the history and spread far and wide through out the country.
During the Warring States Period, Qin and Han dynasties lamps and lanterns were mainly made of bronze, the craftsmanship of which had come of age no matter in molding, ornament or production. In the Shang Dynasty bronze wares were used primarily in sacrifice. While during the Warring States Period bronze wares went under trasformation in function which gave priority to practical utility and the integration of pragmatism and aesthetics. Bronze sculptures were molded vividly and elegantly, with no the grave and mysterious colors of those in the Shang Dynasty. As to arts and crafts, molding techniques such as cast welding and dewaxing casting were proficiently used. Although in the Han Dynasty, many bronze wares were replaced by lacquer and porcelain ones, bronze lamps and lanterns outshined and the first boom of ancient Chinese lamps and lanterns in history came into being.
On the night of the 15ht of the 1st lunar month, there was a sea of various fascinating lanterns accompanied by wonderful displays of fireworks in the sky. The whole country celebrated the festival with diversified traditional performance like dances, local operas, and acrobatics. Being favored by people, the festival has been developing with great vitality. The celebration grew increasingly grand; The lanterns became increasingly delicate. More and more entertainments were added up to the festival, and more and more prosperous the trade during the festivals became. Even the lantern show itself was continually becoming longer.
In the socialist new China, the lantern show of Lantern Festival has been bestowed with new meaning, and exhibited its new features and attractions on either side of the Great Wall, all over the country.
Before the invention of the light, our ancestors used to light the torch, the torch known as the “candle” at the time, candle is divided into two types: “out side the door named Large Candle (大烛), in the home named TingLiao (庭燎).” At about the 6th century BC, there is poem that named TingLiao in the “The Book of Poetry“.
This poem depicts a scene of audience palace in the morning, it showed the emperor rule the country hardly.
This is the oldest lantern poem, its vivid description, rhetorical, jingle, can be said to create the form of lantern poem, is the originator of lantern poem.
灯因水溢彩, 水以灯流光. Owing to water, lanterns overfolw the lustre and water flashes for lanterns.
瑶池碧海、云波烟涛、彩泉飞珠、激光夜照; Taking a green pool as sea, with the cloudy waves, water pearls and razer as night background.
群龙戏水、鱼游凤舞、仙女翩翩、仙乐阵阵. The soaring dragon, ancing pheonixes and celestial maidens as well as swimming fishes are lightly moving with relevant music.
此景只应天上有,倏然一夜在人间. It seems that the Heaven scene falls on the earth in one night.
Writing in Zigong Lantern Festival, The large-sized Lantern sets compose a magnificent scenery for Zigong Lantern Festival.
The lantern display is the most important element of the lantern festival, and each lantern display shown some traditional or modern stories. The size of these lantern displays can be designed and manufactured according to different exhibition places and requirement. A large lantern display might occupy over 100 square meters, some one even over 1000 square meters. But most of the lantern displays usually occupy an area of 30 to 80 square meters.
three crane lanterns
A displays of Dragon boat Lantern
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