By Nasheng Liu 1:21 pm PST

During the Chinese New Year of 1998, I returned to China and was lucky enough to engage in local celebration events and temple festivals in Wugang City of Hunan Province. After years of being away, the rural festivities still made a deep impression on me.

Crowding onto the streets filled with numerous tourists, I gazed at the dancing dragons and lions, while the deafening sounds of cracking fireworks, gongs, and drums startled me. Strong regional flavor was shown through a drum carried on a cart, which was decorated with a brightly colored roof and a hand-made dragon and lion. With the pungent smell of gunpowder, wide assortments of New Year snacks, and kids and adults smiling with excitement, the merry atmosphere of Chinese New Year filled every corner.

What set Wugang’s temple festival apart from others was the fact that the festival took place above the “temple bridge.” Famous for its ancient temple, the wooden “temple bridge” was not only a river crossing but also a place of worship and local festivities.

Old Street Old Ciy Gate by Nansheng Liu, 2006
Old Street Old Ciy Gate. Oil on canvas. ©Nansheng Liu

I squirmed my way through swarms of people, fascinated by the scenes around me. Behind burning incense and rising smoke were faces of devout women. What might they be praying for? Favorable weather and affluence? Good health? Prosperity and peace? To pray to gods for blessings during the Chinese New Year is not only people’s hope for good luck, but also a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Old City-Pilgrimage and Praying by Nansheng Liu
Old City-Pilgrimage and Praying. Oil on canvas. ©Nansheng Liu

Touched by the New Year festivities, I came to realize that traditions, culture, and customs are symbols of a people, and that our traditional culture is the fuel for sustaining 5,000 years of history. Viewed from the aesthetic angle, I see it as a manifestation of truthfulness, compassion, and beauty. This is why I’ve painted my experiences of Chinese New Year to share with my friends.