Guanyintang village keeps bamboo hobbyhorse racing alive

By Zhu Shengnan| (| Updated : 2022-03-24

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With a history of over 350 years, bamboo hobbyhorse has been a very popular folk art in Guanyintang village, Wudi county, Binzhou, Shandong province. It was listed as a municipal-level intangible cultural heritage item of Binzhou in 2009.

A bamboo hobbyhorse is a kind of horse-shaped prop made of bamboo strips, cloth, and paper, which is usually tied around the performer's body in a folk dance. The performers need to walk quickly or run continuously, so the performance is colloquially called "hobbyhorse racing".

"It was introduced to Guanyintang village from Rizhao by Li Guobi, a scholar selected by the local government to study in the capital city of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the reign of Emperor Kangxi," said Li Mengjie, an inheritor of bamboo hobbyhorse.

Hobbyhorse performances in Guanyintang village usually tell the story of An Lushan, a leader of rebels in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong during Tang Dynasty (618-907), arranging arms and preparing before dispatching troops.


A bamboo hobbyhorse performance in Guanyintang village [Photo/WeChat account: qlwbjrbz]

The performers wear costumes in different colors. The leading role usually wears a black costume and rides a black horse. Other performers wear white, yellow, pink and red to signify that they are acting as a general, solider, madam, or servant.

They change formations constantly with the beating of drums and gongs. Sometimes they march forward neck to neck, while sometimes they go alone or interact with each other.

The bamboo hobbyhorse performance group in Guanyintang village consists of over 30 people, including 15 starring performers, six band members to beat drums and strike gongs, four people to wave the flag, and four people to control the lighting, while the remaining members serve as the supervisor and instructor outside the court.


A group photo of bamboo hobbyhorse performers in Guanyintang village [Photo/WeChat account: qlwbjrbz]

Zhang Baoxian, 90 years old, is the oldest inheritor in the group. He learnt this art from his grandfather and father. Despite his age, he remains enthusiastic in every performance, providing instructions to the younger performers.

His son Zhang Yuting, 70 years old, was also a member of the performance group. "Bamboo hobbyhorse performances require lots of strength and energy," he said. "We are too old to run the horse now, so most hobbyhorse performers now are members of the post-80's and post-90's generations, of which the youngest one is only 19 years old. We mainly train them and instruct them how to perform."


Nineteen-year-old Li Xinglong is the youngest performer in the group. He always takes the role as a newlywed wife. [Photo/WeChat account: qlwbjrbz]

"We want to pass this traditional folk art on from generation to generation through our love and persistence," said Wang Zhenmin, the apprentice of Zhang Baoxian and also the leading role performer in this group, who has been engaged in hobbyhorse performance for over 40 years.


The performers wear costumes with different colors to signify what role they are playing. [Photo/WeChat account: qlwbjrbz]