In a tiny town by the name of Nuanquan, not too far from the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, a curious tradition of throwing molten iron pulls in a growing crowd of tourists every Lunar New Year. The tradition is called da shuhua (打树花) which has the literal translation of ‘hitting tree-flower’ and is named after a forgotten technique of shaking trees to retrieve their blossom.
When the molten iron is thrown against an icy wall, it produces an incredible explosion. The sparks in the explosion are said to resemble falling blossom in the fashion of da shuhua.
Once being dubbed the “poor man’s fireworks”, this dangerously thrilling activity comes from the creativity of its residents from centuries before, who could not afford the luxurious fireworks made from gunpowder packed into hollow bamboo stems. Thanks to Nuanquan’s enterprising nature, the town resorted to its steel works and Blacksmithing heritage to find an alternative. Hence throwing molten iron for entertainment was born and helped to forge the town’s identity. Year upon year, town dwellers would donate their scraps of iron for a spectacular fireworks show during the Lunar New Year festival.
China’s firework obsession at the time of New Year has a dubious future due to the government’s recent crackdown in banning firework displays. Fireworks release the pollutant PM2.5 into the air which contributes to some of the worst cases of pollution on the planet.
However, da shuhua shows no signs of stopping as more and more tourists flock to Nuanquan in an act of re-discovering their Chinese traditions. The shows are becoming extravaganzas in their own right with a variety of acts and music around the staple event of throwing molten iron.
Students interested in reading AMES or Oriental Studies would do well to consider the act of da shuhua in its cultural and historical context. Geographers and Human Scientists may be interested in the conflict of tradition and environmental pressures in modern China.