Amid the number of holidays and festivals taking place across China recently, none have been quite as bizarre as the traditional Junpo Festival, celebrated last weekend in Hainan province.

The Hainan government’s tourism website describes the Junpo Festival (军坡节) as one the province’s largest and most important festivals, with a history that dates back more than 1,300 years. Junpo celebrates Lady Xian, a noblewoman born in 513 AD in modern-day Guangdong province, who became a national heroine by helping to unite her region in a tumultuous period of Chinese history. A master of strategy, politics and war, Xian promoted communication, integration and intermarriage between the local minorities of Southern China and the Han Chinese arriving from the north.
For her contributions, Premier Zhou Enlai would later deem her "The First Heroine of China", while President Jiang Zemin would praise her as a "role model that later generations should learn from forever."
To celebrate Lady Xian, as well as their ancestors, locals sing operas, eat sweet potatoes, make sacrifices, perform "lion dances" and put on various folk performances.
It turns out that some of these traditional cultural activities are pretty hardcore. Participants scale ladders of knives (上刀山), run on burning coals (下火海) and pierce their cheeks with long metal rods (穿杖). Actually, all of these rituals sound preferable to doing anything at all during any official Chinese holiday.
The Junpo Festival is celebrated from the second day to the nineteenth day of the second lunar month of each year in rural Hainan, though the main celebration lasts for just four days. If you have the opportunity next year, plan a trip for an atypical Chinese holiday experience.
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