Shenzhen Museum #2 – Folk Culture 深圳民俗文化

Every place has its own folk culture and customs. No difference in Shenzhen. Over the course of history when different people migrated to Shenzhen, the cultures crashed and merged, and a uniquely Shenzhen culture starts to emerge. The permanent exhibition in Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture seeks to present the different cultural influences to this unique city of Shenzhen.

Shenzhen Folk Culture Exhibition 深圳民俗文化

The Shenzhen Folk Culture Exhibition 深圳民俗文化 is divided into four main sections, namely, Regional 区域, Cantonese 广府, Hakka 客家 and Maritime Folk Culture 海洋文化.

Part 1a – Regional Folk Culture 区域民俗

In a purely geographical sense, the term Lingnan 岭南 includes not only Cantonese 广府 culture but also the cultures of the Hakkas 客家Teochews 潮州Taishanese 台山Hainanese 海南 and non-Han groups such as the Zhuangs 壮族Tanka 蜑家/艇家 or She 畲族 within the Lingnan region. Shenzhen is made up of mainly indigenous Hakka in the east and Cantonese in the west. Their cultures are respectively preserved, but common social customs developed over time thanks to the co-existence within the same region.

Whipping the Oxen to Welcome Spring-plowing 鞭打土牛催春耕

Whipping the Oxen to Welcome Spring-plowing 鞭打土牛催春耕 is one of those customs that developed over time due to the amalgamation of different ethnic cultures. Its root can be traced back to Zhou and Qin dynasties (over 2,000 years) ago.

Whipping the Oxen to Welcome Spring-plowing 鞭打土牛催春耕

China was an agricultural society so there were many customs that were steeped in traditions and superstitions from today’s context. The Spring Oxen ceremony was elaborate and well-documented so that it would be followed by generations strictly. There’s always an ox and a child to represent the earth and spring. They were led to the Tianhou temple 天后庙 at Nantou 南头 (modern day Houhai Nanshan Village 后海南山村) and the presiding official and child would whip the ox in front of the Goddess of Heaven 天后 to hasten the harvest.

Whipping the Oxen to Welcome Spring-plowing 鞭打土牛催春耕

There’s another part of this custom that is practiced around the world among the Chinese communities. Every year, a Chinese almanac is published before the end of the Lunar Year which the Chinese calendar 黄历 is based. The almanac is referred to as Tong Sheng 通胜 and on the first page is the Spring Ox Diagram 春牛图.

Every new year, a new Spring Ox diagram 春牛图 would be published with an ox called the Spring Oxen 春牛 and an agriculture god that can manifest either as a child or an old man called Mang Sheng or “Spirit of Spring” 芒神. The combination would predict the weather patterns, the harvests as well as general situations. There’s also the “Sutra of the Mother Earth” 地母经 that was supposed to be passed down since the time of Huang Di or “Yellow Emperor” 黄帝, the ancestor of the Chinese people. These quadrants are predictions of the year’s fortune and are cycled every 60 years.

Spring Ox diagram for 2019 and 2020 (taken from Quan Yuan website)

In 2020, the diagram predicted widespread death similar to a pandemic (人民多暴卒 “Populace died suddenly”) and flooding in Jiangsu areas (秦淮足流荡 “Qinhuai River of Jiangsu flows rapidly”). Both predictions have been eerily accurate. The same accuracy was also exhibited in 2019, when the diagram prophesied the disturbance of the land (人民多横起 “There will be uprisings of the people”), which can be related to the social upheavals in Hong Kong. Luckily, the 2022 predictions were much better.

Trades of the Period

Besides customs, many trades were flourishing with the increasing number of people settling in the area. These trades were handicrafts or tradesman that came from the surrounding area.

Shenzhen was first mention as a fairground or marketplace called a Xu 墟. Shenzhen Market 深圳墟 was highlight in the map from Ming Dynasty in 1410. The Country Fair 农村墟市 was a regular congregation of traders from the area. This developed into the modern day Dongmen Old Street 东门老街.

Traditional clothings store 服饰店

This diorama is staged around the late Qing Dynasty, where most of Shenzhen western dwellers would be mainly Cantonese. Fashionable men would wear the long gown called Gua 褂, and women would wear a variation of the Qing dress called Qipao 旗袍. And as usual, men clothings and apparels were practical and boring, while the ladies fashion was elaborate and intricate. One of the key trends was the incorporation of Chaozhou embroidery 潮州绣, which is considered one of the four main styles of Chinese embroidery.

Traditional cake shop 糕饼店

Traditional Chinese snacks and cakes have been produced in Shenzhen for hundreds of years. From deep fried items like horn fritters 油角, donuts 糖环 to pastries like “cloud” rice cake 云片糕, steamed cakes 松糕, mugwort cakes 艾果, these were all influenced by Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka and Fujian cultures that intermingled in Shenzhen.

Bamboo and rattan weaver 编织作坊

These weavers produced practical items like corianders and baskets that were very lasting. My mom used to carry a cane basket to market to bag all the purchase. They were very durable and cheap to make, and totally environmental friendly. Bamboo and rattan were readily available in Shenzhen so weaved objects were ver popular.

Drying Shajing oysters 沙井蚝

Oyster from Shajing 沙井 in the Bao’an District was harvested and sold throughout the country since Jin Dynasty 晋朝 (266-420). Oyster farming appeared in Song Dynasty 宋朝 (960-1279). Oysters are harvested from the Winter Solstice to March the following year. Fresh oysters are sought after by gourmets during this period, while excesses are dried or made into oyster sauce.

Wine making by the Hakka

This is typical traditional Hakka Yellow Wine 客家黄酒 distillery. Hakka yellow wine is also called Hakka Mother Wine 客家娘酒 and its preparation was a yardstick as to how skilled in terms of housework or suitable for marriage was a Hakka lady.

Tofu was invented in the Han Dynasty by King of Huainan Liu An 淮南王 刘安. The Hakkas improved on the simple tofu with Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐, which filled the tofu with minced pork, fish or mushroom to uplift the flavours.

Chinese medicinal halls 中药店 were an important part of any community. They provided medical care as well as pharmaceutical supplies. Chinese sinseh or doctors were trained by apprenticeship, and many were passed from one generation to the next. Therefore many century old medicinal halls can be found around China. In fact, one of the prescription for curing lung infection due to virus was used in the current fit against Covid.

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