Working themselves into a trance, bare-chested men in eastern China lean into incandescent fountains of sparks to cleanse themselves of evil spirits and ensure a fortuitous new year.
The spectacular scene takes place annually in villages such as Xiaohu in coastal Fujian province, which is home to an array of colourful centuries-old Lunar New Year rites linked to ancient customs and local gods.
Selected devotees allow themselves to be “possessed” by those gods, then chant intonations and blow on horns as they are escorted to the courtyard of Xiaohu’s main temple.
There, they lean for up to 10 seconds into a spray of bright white sparks shooting upward from fireworks placed on the ground while waving small flags or fans as hundreds of people watch.
Opening their mouths, they pretend to “eat” the sparks, thus giving the custom its local name, “eating flowers”.
The villagers emerge singed and darkened with soot, but off to a clean start to the Year of the Dog, which began on February 16 according to the lunar calendar.
“I was very surprised when I first saw it. I didn’t believe it was real. And now I come and watch this every year,” said Fujian resident Chen Guoqiang.
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