The Sanyuesan Festival

Foshan China & 2017-05-02


"The Sanyuesan Festival, the birth of the North Emperor" (三月三,北帝诞). The Sanyuesan Festival is celebrated on the third day of the third lunar month. Celebrating the birth of the Beidi, the North Emperor, who is the water god of fire prevention, is one of the most important Lingnan folk events that also known as the temple fair of Foshan Ancestral Temple. The Ancestral Temple is located in Zumiao Road that used to be "Ancient Luoshui"(古洛水) River. The North Emperor Temple was built in this place to wish for safety sailing in the waterway. It became more popular as a god of fire prevention since the Song Dynasty when Foshan turned into a famous iron-making center.


According to the Foshan Zhongyi Village Record in the Republic of China, in the Ming Dynasty, the rebel army attacked Foshan. Villagers gathered in the Ancestral Temple to ask whether fight or not. The North Emperor showed a sign of fighting and villagers won the battles. People owe the victory to the North Emperor. Since then, the Sanyuesan Festival has become the greatest ceremony in Foshan.


The celebration activity lasted until the Republic of China. In 1938, Foshan was invaded by Japan and the celebration stopped. After the reform and opening-up, with the improvement of living standard, folk beliefs are respected and the celebration of Sanyuesan Festival is restored, which is getting more and more popular.


Traditional rituals of celebration

1. Worship ceremony: the worship ceremony of the North Emperor, which is the only existing complete ceremony of the North Emperor in China, was presented in the form of spring rite at the third gate of the Ancestral Temple. An altar was set in the center where many offerings, such as grains, wine and roasted pig and a censer were placed to worship the North Emperor. Before the worship ceremony, mourn the white tiger, a legendary evil god, so it will not make a trouble. Then clean the altar with the water of Chinese wampee leaf to exorcise evil spirits. Lion dance, burning incenses, libation, reciting condolence and worship dance all give the event a sense of respect and solemnity. Finally, the offerings are distributed to donators, showing the blessings of the North Emperor.


2. Parade: after a series of rites, the ceremony leads to a celebration parade that starts from the double dragon wall to the front gate of the Ancestral Temple. People carry the sculpture of the North Emperor and parade in costumes, beating a gong and holding colorful flags. The bronze statute of the North Emperor God of War was built during 1450 to 1456. It is golden and 0.8 meter tall, showing a powerful image of the North Emperor dressed in armor. It is led by a squad of honor guard and colorful flags and drums and followed by dancing lions with the sound of gongs. The cruise of the North Emperor sends out blessings, which is a symbol of being close to people and loving people.


3. Play opera: in order to pray for good luck and express gratitude to the grace of god, people will play operas. It is said that the Wanfu Stage built in 1658 was to play operas to the North Emperor. Besides operas on the Wanfu Stage, many communities will invite theatrical troupes to play operas and even hold a feast to celebrate.


4. Burning big cracker: the activity of burning big cracker used to be held on the fourth day of the third lunar month. Set fire to a big cracker placed in a fancy car. When the cracker explodes, the iron ring on it will fly into sky. The audience will reach out for it for happiness and good luck. (this activity has been canceled due to fire risk)


Development of celebration nowadays

There were also many other celebration activities nowadays, including charitable sales of paintings and calligraphies created by masters and the exhibitions and performance of intangible cultural heritages .



Selected as the national intangible cultural heritage in 2008, it has become the epitome of Foshan folk culture and a significant social phenomenon of the historical development of Foshan. There are four main parts of the event, including the spring rite, parade, Cantonese opera and exhibitions and performance.