Residents of Neixiang county in Nanyang, Henan province welcomed the coming of spring on Feb 3 in usual lively fashion when a large crowd gathered to "whip the spring ox," a time-honored tradition among the people.
The ritual, which can be traced back nearly 3,000 years and is based on China's traditional lunar calendar, celebrates the coming of spring with prayers of a rich and bountiful harvest. Start of Spring, or Lichun, marks the first term of China's lunar calendar which begins on Feb 4 this year.
Offering sacrifices to the agricultural god is an essential part of the age-old ceremony held in Nanyang's Neixiang county, Feb 3, 2018. [Photo by Cui Peng/ha.people.cn]
The "spring ox" itself is a large piñata-style model bovine made of clay and cloth. It is stuffed with sacrificial offerings such as grains and dried fruit before being painted with bright colors.
The ritual first saw the ox being taken to a temple dedicated to the local agricultural god, where village leaders conducted a religious ceremony called "greeting spring," before being carried to the fields on a platform by locals in traditional costume. There, the ox symbolically "ploughed" the fields, increasing chances of a good harvest.
Performers in traditional costume demonstrate the "spring ploughing" in Nanyang's Neixiang county, Feb 3, 2018.. [Photo by Cui Peng /ha.people.cn]
Next came the "whipping spring" phase of the ritual, where the model cow was taken to the Neixiang Local Magistrate's Office Museum. Here, the local magistrate whipped the ox until it released its bellyful of offerings, unleashing a frenzy among local residents as they competed to grab the falling food. Catching an offering is believed to bring farmers good luck in the coming harvest.
According to Wang Xiaojie, head of the Neixiang Local Magistrate's Office Museum, the traditional ritual was revived in 2005 following the exact procedures laid out in historical records, in a bid to promote cultural heritage.
"Whipping the spring ox" phase of the ritual held in Nanyang's Neixiang county on Feb 3, 2018. [Photo by Cui Peng /ha.people.cn]