Thought to have been around since the days of Qing dynasty (circa mid-17th century), miaohui (literally meaning temple fair - 庙会in Chinese) is a centuries old Buddhist and Taoist tradition whereby up and down the land key temples host fairs to celebrate deities, food, music and the arts. Wherever people would gather, vendors would soon appear and within no time at all the fairs would become a highlight of the calendar for many.
Entertainment would come in the form of puppet shows, acrobatic troupes and cross-talk (the ancient equivalent of stand-up comedy) and people would burn incense for their loved ones and make wishes for a brighter future and a lucky year ahead.
Happening sporadically throughout the year, the Spring Festival fairs were the ones attracting huge crowds – a tradition that still happens to this day. Nowadays it’s a chance to immerse yourself in local culture, experience something quite unlike many things you’ve seen before and wrestle with crowds in their tens of thousands.
After New Year’s Eve’s fatal crush in Shanghai, restrictions have been put in place with some temples cancelling all gatherings, and some modestly limiting visitor numbers to a mere 90,000 people at once.
Chaoyang International Fengqing Festival (朝阳国际风情节)
Also known as Chaoyang Park Temple Fair (朝阳公园庙会), this one caters a bit more specifically for the international crowd. With representatives from some of the international embassies bringing their own cuisine, shows are provided by dance groups and performers from the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Greece, Chile and Peru to name just a few. It also promises to host exciting promotional attractions in relation to China’s bid for the 2022 Olympics, although we’re not entirely sure what that will entail.
Temple fair held on Wednesday, February 19-Tuesday, February 24, 8:30 am-5:00 pm, 10 RMB
1 Chaoyang Gonglu Nanlu, Chaoyang District (北京市朝阳区朝阳公园南路1号)
Daguanyuan Temple Fair (大观园庙会)
One of China’s literary masterpieces the world-renowned classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, is set in this District. With its large landscaped interior garden bringing a festive welcome to the New Year, Daguanyuan’s theme will be Red House (honglou; 红楼). Despite full details not being fully available you can expect Chinese classic cultural performances such as cross-talk and opera will make this one well worth a visit.
Temple Fair held on Thursday, February19 –Monday, February 23, 9:00 am-5:00 pm, 40 RMB
12 Nancaiyuan Jie, Xicheng District (北京市西城区南菜园街12号)
Ditan Park Temple Fair (地坛公园庙会)
One of the capital’s most popular Spring Festival fairs is this one at Ditan Park. After a security review, the capacity has been capped at 90,000 people; how they will be counting them in and out, however, we couldn’t tell you.
Yunnan’s Dai people will be making a colorful squawk with their peacock dance amongst many other, more traditional Chinese, performances.
As well as the park’s Altar of Earth, a two-storied square shrine with a ditch around the outside, that was founded in 1530 – as a tribute to the God of Earth – for those early risers that get there before 10am, you can catch a glimpse of a re-enactment of the imperial family's traditional prayers for good harvests originally held here in the summer. Food-wise try some dry-fried beans, jiaoquan (fried dough sticks that taste great) dipped into doujiang – thick soy milk) as well niangao (New Year cakes).
Temple Fair held on Wednesday, February 18 – Wednesday, February 25, 9:00 am-5:00 pm, 10 RMB
Ditan Park, Andingmen Wai Dajie, Dongcheng District (北京市东城区定门外大街地坛公园)
Dongyue Temple Fair (东岳庙庙会)
This temple was originally constructed almost 700 years ago by one of the descendants of the founders of Daoism, Zhang Liusun, and is dedicated to the God of Mount Tai. The Eastern Peak as it’s also known is the easternmost and holiest of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism. Established during the Yuan Dynasty, the site now houses the Beijing Folk Customs Museum.
They have an awesome array of 76 deities whose purposes range from welcoming, to punishment in the afterlife (for those who have been ill-behaved) and seeing these fairly epic works of art is worth visiting alone.
During the Spring Festival fair season however you can expect extra entertainment in the form of acrobatics, drum troops, puppet shows, dance performances, Chinese opera, cross-talk shows and an exhibition on the Chinese zodiac. Alongside this there will be old-school games like block puzzles, a box exhibition (the word for box in Chinese is similar to the word for harmony so adds to the auspicious nature of the occasion), and a talk of traditional Chinese etiquette. Countless snacks will be available including wandouhuang (yellow pea flour cakes) and lüdagun (a kind of bean flour roll) and the temple will be giving out couplets written by local calligraphers.
Temple fair held on Wednesday, February 18 –Wednesday, February 25, 9:00 am-5:00 pm, 10 RMB
Dongyue Miao, 141 Chaowai Dajie, Chaoyang District (北京市朝阳门外大街141号东岳庙)
Happy Valley Temple Fair (欢乐谷新春庙会)
This one’s for the thrill-seekers among us; roller coasters will be zooming around with people shrieking wildly as a grand troupe of up to 50 acrobats perform on the streets below. Here you can also find a zodiac sign parade – and no prizes for guessing which animal will be leading the way.
Temple fair held on Thursday, February 19 –Thursday, March 5 (9:30 am-8:30 pm), 160 RMB
Xiaowuji Beilu, Chaoyang District (北京市朝阳区小武基北路欢乐谷)
Hongluo Temple Fair (红螺寺庙会)
Get a little farther out, roughly 60km outside of the city centre, the Hongluo (Red Snail) Temple hosts at least 500 deities and Buddhas throughout the grounds. Add to this the extra activities for the Spring Festival Fair such as the special ceremonies of worship, paper cutting, lantern-riddle guessing games and scroll writing and they’ll be something for most.
Feast on local festive specialities like almonds, chestnuts and xiyangshen (ginseng, or 西洋参) as you watch a variety of shows and performances at one of the city’s biggest shrines.
Temple fair held on Thursday February 19 –Tuesday, February 24, 40 RMB
Hongluo Temple, 2 Hongluo Dong Lu, Huairou District (北京市怀柔区红螺东路2号红螺寺内)
Longtan Park Temple Fair (龙潭公园庙会)
To be found in the Dongcheng District, Longtan Park (literally meaning Dragon Pool Park) peacefully surrounds Longtan Lake, and features many quaint bridges, idyllic walkways, rock gardens, tea houses and dragon boats.
This one is another fair that doesn’t actually feature a temple, although the atmosphere promises to be just as carnival-esque. The Qing-era architecture will be lavishly draped in dragon – or possibly ram – themed décor, and if you’re feeling lucky (or want to feel lucky) you can don a blindfold and touch the gigantic character for wealth (wu).
Traditionally-styled showcases will come in the form of acrobatics and taekwondo plus a whole host of choreographed dancing and floats that will meander their way through the park. Apparently you can also get involved in the out ice-carving but you might want to wear some heavier gear for that one to avoid the chills. This is another fair limited to a mere 90,000 attendees.
Temple Fair held Wednesday, February 18 – Wednesday, February 25, 8:00 am-5:00 pm, 10 RMB
Longtan Park, 8 Longtanhu Lu, Dongcheng District(北京市东城区龙潭路8号龙潭湖公园)
Phoenix Mountain Nature Park Temple Fair (凤凰岭自然风景公园庙会)
One of the most stunning parks in Beijing, this place is a firm favorite with serious climbers – and has a reputation of people being rescued from the mountain top. We’d suggest you stay as close to sea-level as possible and take your time exploring the winding pathways shadowed by the rocky hills.
We don’t have so much information regarding the fair itself but for sure there will lots of food available, performance dances, parades and stalls selling knick-knacks of every description.
Temple fair held on Thursday, February 19 – Monday, February 23, in the park's car park from 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Phoenix Mountain (also known as Fenghuangling Nature Park) 19 Fenghuangling Lu, Haidian District (北京市 海淀区苏家坨镇凤凰岭路19号)
Old Summer Palace Imperial Temple Fair (圆明园皇家庙会)
Legend has it these fairs date back to when the Qing emperors would rendezvous with members of the nobility, national officials, visiting royalties and foreign diplomats. Again details are a little scant but for sure they will be putting on a show and a feast fit for kings.
Thursday, February 19 –Tuesday, February 24, 10 RMB at 28 Qinghua Xilu, Haidian District (北京市海淀区清华西路28号圆明园内)