China villages cheer Robin Hood-like hero in spring festival

This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province.
PHOTO: AFP

Juhe, China - Carrying the golden statue of a revered ancient general, villagers in eastern China dash wildly through waterlogged fields in a mud-spattered celebration of a local rebel adored for stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Spurred on by the roar of firecrackers and cheers of families crowded on muddy banks, teams of men splash through the quagmire, in a centuries-old ceremony that is part of the lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11.

Villagers in Fujian hold ceremony in lead up to Yuan Xiao festival

  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a dancer (C) sitting at a table with food during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows members of a marching band trying pass though a field during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a old woman stands between a marching band as villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, along a street in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers walking down a street filled with smoke from firecrackers during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a villagers praying to a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows participants standing in the mud after carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a villager running in muddy water during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, on a street covered with firecrackers in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers waiting for the beginning of a festival next to a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers cleaning a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, with the water of a river in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers resting after carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, in a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a villager carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a villagers trying to get out of a field after carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, through a muddy field in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows shows villagers covered in mud after carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a villager covered in mud after carrying a golden statue of an ancient Chinese general who, like Robin Hood, is celebrated for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, during a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows villagers covered in mud after taking part in a festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE
  • This picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows members of a marching band trying to clean their shoes in a river after a celebration ahead of the Lantern Festival in the village of Juhe in China's Fujian province. The events were part of a centuries-old ceremony that takes place in the three-day lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11. The holiday is a time for colourful ceremonies in Fujian, where the coastal province's population of Hakka people have passed down particularly strong folk traditions. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE

It is a time for colourful ceremonies in the coastal province of Fujian, where the Hakka people have held on particularly strongly to their folk traditions.

At the centre of the celebrations is the solemn-faced gilded effigy of Guan Gong, a Chinese general who lived nearly 2,000 years ago during the Eastern Han dynasty and has been granted god-like status.

But he is not the main focus of the festivities.

For villagers here Guan Gong acts as a stand-in for a local rebel king named Zhang Lian, akin to a Robin Hood figure, who looted riches and helped the poor.

He rose up in 1560 against the corrupt Ming empire, which used its massive army to impose heavy taxes on local peasants.

After two years of fighting, the government crushed the insurrection, leading the hero to flee to Indonesia, where legend has it he eventually became king of the southeastern island known today as Sumatra.

Seeking to honour him without upsetting the emperor, Ming dynasty peasants paid tribute to an image of Guan Gong instead.

Local families pray to the statue, light incense and sacrifice chickens, before carrying it down to the field.

Photo: AFP

Villagers on Wednesday ran through the flooded fields to the point of collapse and then splashed water on the statue and each other in the winter morning chill.

Stomping about in the mud is also a way to "awaken" the farmland for the coming spring and express hopes for a good harvest year.

Hu Sheng, one of the men carrying the statue in a bamboo litter, told AFP that he travelled to the ceremony every year from the southern city of Shenzhen where he works.

"Everyone respects Guan Gong. I must come back for this because I hope he will bless me and my family this year, and I want everyone to have a good harvest," he said.

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