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Beasts on Stilts

By NewsChina Updated May.1

Gaoqiao Zoushou, which means “Beasts on Stilts,” is a folk dance performed at temple fairs in Yangcheng Village, Shanxi Province. It thrived in the early days of the Yongzheng emperor’s reign (1722-1735) in the Qing Dynasty, and now has 300 years of history. On February 7, local villagers held an unprecedentedly magnificent gaoqiao zoushou performance to celebrate the Lantern Festival on February 11, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. 

During the dance, performers dress as mythical animals, walking on stilts and wearing heavy costumes. They move to the lively rhythm of percussion instruments, such as gongs and flower-drums, played in the background. The beasts maintain their original primitive appearance, their heads and bodies made up of flax, jute paper, strings, thin bamboo, iron wires and cloth. The bright colors give them a mighty and magnificent appearance. Yangcheng Village is divided 
into South and North Yangcheng. The walking animals in the southern village include unicorns, wolves and cats, while those in the north use black panthers, spotted deer and tapirs. Each beast performance tells an old fairy tale or folk story.

1. A six-year-old boy takes the lead and walks on stilts in the front of the performance team 

2. A performer acts as Kui Xing, the god of examinations in Chinese mythology; he stands on the head of the giant turtle “Ao,” which symbolizes “coming first in examinations” 

3. Different “beasts” move on stilts along the village road 

4. The inner structure of a “beast” costume 

5. Nine girls dress as phoenix spirits, “the king of birds” in traditional Chinese myth. The phoenix is considered an auspicious animal 

6. Young performers stand in line, holding their stilts 

7. Two villagers help a performer walk on stilts 

8. A performer holds an infant, an act that locals believe will bring good luck to the baby the following year