The San Yue San Festival, also known as Shisi Festival, is a traditional festival in China that has a history of over 2000 years. It falls on the third day of the third lunar month in the Chinese calendar, which usually falls in March or April. In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, it is a statutory holiday. During the San Yue San Festival, people usually celebrate by singing folk songs, dancing, and enjoying traditional foods. It's a time for people to gather with family and friends, and to pay tribute to their ancestors. If you happen to be in Guangxi during this time, it's a great opportunity to experience the local culture and traditions.

Origin of San Yue San Festival

The San Yue San Festival, also known as Shangsi Festival, has a long history that dates back to ancient times. It was originally a festival for baptism and blessing activities, and people would go to rivers or streams to dabble with each other, use Peran water to dispel the plague, bathe in the river, give herbs to each other, and go on a spring tour in the countryside. However, due to the vast territory of China, not all places have warm weather during the festival, so the tradition gradually evolved into "Qu Shui Liu Shang" during the Jin dynasty, where people would drink liquor from a winding canal with one wine cup floating on it to wash away ominousness.

In addition to the Han nationality, other Chinese minorities also celebrate this festival, such as the Zhuang nationality. For the Zhuang people, the San Yue San Festival is the most important festival and is considered the birthday of Buluotuo, the ancestor of the Zhuang people.

However, with the passage of time, the Shangsi Festival is no longer the main festival in China. Although some minority groups in the southwest region of China still celebrate it every year.

Tradition of San Yue San Festival in Guangxi

Making 5 colors sticky rice


Before the San Yue San Festival, many families in Guangxi and among the Zhuang people will prepare 5-color sticky rice and painted eggs. The sticky rice is dyed with the juice of peristrophe roxburghiana, buddlejae flos, maple leaf, and yew vine to create red, black, yellow, and purple colors. According to one Zhuang tale, a fairy ate this delicacy and liked it very much, and from then on, people began to make 5-color sticky rice every year on this day. Another tale says that the sticky rice is made as a sacrifice to Liu Sanjie, the fairy of music. It is believed that those who eat the 5-color sticky rice will have a large family and a strong body.

Ancestor Worship

The San Yue San Festival is also a festival dedicated to ancestors. On this day, the Zhuang people offer sacrifices to their ancestors with 5-color sticky rice, mugwort rice cake, and steamed pork with rice flour. They also hold a sacrifice ceremony, which includes activities such as weeding and adding soil, repairing the cemetery, burning incense at the grave, offering oblations, kneeling and toasting, burning oblation money, marking and hanging oblation money, setting off firecrackers, and praying for ancestors to bless their family's happiness and well-being.

These activities are an important part of the festival and reflect the Zhuang people's deep respect and reverence for their ancestors.

Singing-Fair and Make Embroidered Ball

Every year of San Yue San Festival, all the single people will go to the singing-fair to find the one they like. Before going to the singing-fair, girls will make embroidered balls, which made of twelve silk cloths were tied together in a circle, each representing the twelve months of the year, embroidered with flowers for that month. Some embroidered balls are made into squares and polygons, and is filled with bean millet or cotton seeds. The ball is attached to a silk ribbon, falling silk spike and decorative beads, symbolizing pure love.

In the singing-fair, if a boy find the girl he like, he will express his adore to the girl through his singing. And if the girl willing to accept the boy, she will give a embroidered ball that she made to the boy. And the boy will give her a handkerchief or towel to the girl. And that means they are officially couple now.

Bump Painted Egg


The Zhuang people have a unique tradition of using painted eggs to express affection. During the singing-fair, boys will hold a painted egg and bump it against a girl's egg. If the girl is not interested in the boy, she will protect her egg from the bump. However, if she likes the boy, she will willingly let him bump her egg. Afterwards, they will eat the eggs together as a symbol of their love. 


After the San Yue San Festival or autumn harvest, some minorities in Guangxi hold a sparkler-grabbing activity. Each team has eight players, and there is no limit to the number of teams. In each game, the first team to score three points wins. Players will use techniques such as breakthroughs, blocking, changing direction, and fast rushes to enter the other side of the fort barbette and score points by grabbing sparklers, similar to American football. The playing field is usually located on the bank of a river or on a hillside.

The Fairy Tale of San Yue San Festival


According to legend, singing can make the god and goddess happy, and they will help people eliminate disaster and make wind and rain come on time. So people appointed every year on March 3 to sing to the god, and it gradually evolved into the San Yue San Festival.

In the Tang dynasty, there was a woman named Liu Sanjie who was known for her singing abilities. She learned that poor people were suffering under the tyranny of local magnates, so she exposed their wrongdoing. The magnates became angry with Liu Sanjie and sent people to cut the vines while she was cutting firewood in the mountains, causing her to fall and die. To commemorate her, locals would sing folk songs for three days on the third day of the third lunar month every year, and this eventually became the San Yue San Festival.

Further reading:
How to Make a Chinese Mooncake
Mid-Autumn Festival