(23 Feb 1999) Mandarin/Nat

As (m) millions of Chinese across the world celebrate the arrival of the year of the Rabbit, in a remote corner of South West China members of the Yi minority are carrying on their own new year celebrations.

Here in the mountainous forests of Yunnan province members of the A-Xi group of the Yi minority continue to practice an ancient courting ritual called moon dancing.


Here in the mountains of South West China spring is very definitely already in the air.

Dressed in traditional costumes, young men and women from across the region gather to take part in the Moon Dance.

It all appears very innocent.

As the young women clap their hands, young men strum on their oversized guitars.

But there is more than mere dancing going on here.

According to the rules of the dance, if a young man spots a woman he likes, he can grab her and drag her away.

Taking part in the Moon Dance could be compared to going on a form of blind date.

Once grabbed the young man drags the young maiden, embarrassed and giggling, off into the forest, where the two are supposed to get to know each other better.

Young women who take part in the dancing insist there is nothing sordid about it.

It is just their way of bringing young men and women together, and maybe of finding a suitable partner.

[VOXPOP: (Mandarin)
“If you take part in the dance then you have that kind of idea, because it is a kind of honour.”
SUPER CAPTION: A-Xi minority woman, Youzhadi, Yunnan Province]

The moon dance is the high point of festivals in this part of South West China, which also includes much singing, eating and drinking.

Communal banquets include a variety of traditional “wild foods”, so called because their ingredients are not grown but gathered from the surrounding forests as the people here have done for thousands of years.

The area is poor, and many of the young people are tempted to leave, drawn to towns and cities in search of a more prosperous life.

But the Yi remain fiercely proud of their traditions.

[VOXPOP: (Mandarin)
“I feel very proud of the fact that I am a member of the Yi minority, especially the A-Xi group of the Yi minority. We have very beautiful traditions. At New Year or other festivals young men and women all come and take part in the moon dance. I feel very fortunate to be able to take part in this type of dancing. I feel really lucky to grow up here even though this place is very poor.”
SUPER CAPTION: A-Xi minority woman, Youzhadi, Yunnan Province]

As night falls it is time for the fire dance.

The Yi people hold strongly animistic beliefs, seeing spirits and gods in the natural world around them, in the trees and the water, and especially in fire.

Young men painted to look like their tribal forebears of thousands of years ago carry a log to start the fire.

Young children join in, lighting torches of dried wood from the roaring fire.

Finally they all parade through the night carrying the torches, helping, they believe, to cleanse the village of bad spirits, disease and pestilence and heralding the start of another year.

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