Chahar Right Rear Banner is located in the middle part of northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 195 kilometers away from Hohhot, the capital city of the autonomous region. With a total area of 3,910 square kilometers and a total population of 220,000, the banner is a multi-ethnic area mainly inhabited by people from the Mongolian and Han ethnic groups.
Going to the Countryside with an Ulan Muqir Troupe
On January 16, 2020, just a few days before Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, “hellos” in the Mongolian language were repeatedly heard at the entrance to Baiyan Tsagaan Town, Chahar Right Rear Banner, Ulanchap City. Locals wearing Mongolian traditional clothing greeted their guests with smile and hada (pieces of silk used as greeting gifts). The guests were members of an Ulan Muqir art troupe.
The performance was staged at the home of Deli Gel, a local villager. With everyone working together, a space for the performance was quickly cleared in the house as a temporary stage. After the passionate opening dance warmed up the atmosphere, distinctive ethnic performances, including Mongolian long tune, Mongolian dance, performance of the morin khuur (also known as the horse-head fiddle), and Khoomei (Mongolian overtone singing), were presented one after another, winning thunderous applause from spectators.
The host, Deli Gel, and his wife live on animal husbandry. That morning, to receive the art troupe, Deli Gel’s family got up very early to prepare milk tea and boiled mutton for guests. “We are so happy that the art troupe comes to our home today,” said Deli Gel. According to the couple, the Ulan Muqir art troupe not only gave wonderful performances, but also made contributions to publicizing national policies together with staff from local government departments responsible for medical, scientific and technological, poverty alleviation, epidemic prevention, and legal affairs.
Boasting a history of nearly 55 years, the Ulan Muqir Troupe in Chahar Right Rear Banner is a grassroots art organization that has long been rooted in rural and pastoral areas. The troupe is now comprised of 39 staff members, with an average age of 33. They present more than 100 performances each year across the banner. Locals affectionately call the troupe “an art ensemble which brings people on the grassland closer to each other.”
Welcoming Chinese New Year with Holy Flame
In Chinese lunar calendar, January 17, 2020 was xiaonian (literally, “Lesser New Year”), which marked the beginning of the celebration for Chinese New Year. This very day was also the Fire Worship Festival in Mongolian culture. Before the festival, people of the Mongolian ethnic group hung up new prayer flags, which symbolize high sprits, vigor, and good luck for the whole family in the coming year.
Early in the morning, all men and women in the family of Tumen Uliji in Baiyan Tsagaan Town were busy preparing for the Fire Worship Festival. With the assistance from the local government, the two children of Tumen Uliji took up animal husbandry. In addition, with the increasing popularity of grassland tourism, local herdsmen have capitalized on natural resources including volcanoes and grasslands to run leisure farms, attracting many tourists from other parts of China.
About five kilometers away from Tumen Uliji’s house, a grand Mongolian fire festival and winter Chahar costume exhibition was held at Morin Khuur Square. Wearing festive clothing, locals offered sacrifices to the holy flame and prayed for good harvest and happiness in the coming year.
“We Mongolians are nomads and have a close relationship with nature. Holding the Fire Worship Festival can allow young people to better inherit Mongolian culture and appreciate gifts from nature,” said Gangtumuer, vice president of Chahar Culture Research Institute.