In his project “Community Fire,” photographer Zhang Xiao offers an intimate glimpse into the ancient Chinese Spring Festival tradition known as Shehuo (社火) in rural Northern Chinese communities. This vibrant tradition, encompassing temple fairs, dragon dances, and captivating storytelling, is rooted in the veneration of land and fire and has a rich history spanning millennia. During this festive season, heartfelt ceremonies are conducted, beseeching for bountiful harvests in the upcoming year and invoking blessings of peace and safety upon all family members.
However, the once diverse and culturally profound heritage of Shehuo has undergone a profound transformation, giving way to a tourist-driven and consumer-oriented spectacle. The People’s Republic of China bestowed the honorable status of “intangible cultural heritage” upon Shehuo in the early 2000s, leading to increased financial support and government involvement. As a consequence, the connection between the practitioners and the essence of Shehuo has shifted significantly, and this transformation is most apparent in the adoption of contemporary, mass-produced attire and props sourced from online shopping platforms.
Through his vivid and otherworldly photographs, Zhang masterfully captures the metamorphosis brought about by these commodified substitutes in the practice of Shehuo. “Community Fire” is a dynamic visual odyssey, offering a profound exploration of one of China’s most ancient and treasured traditions. This remarkable collection, presented in both English and Chinese, is a coproduction between Aperture and Peabody Museum Press.
About the Author
Zhang Xiao, born in Yantai city, Shandong Province, China, in 1981, pursued his academic journey in the department of architecture and design at Yantai University, graduating in 2005. He subsequently embarked on a prolific career as a photojournalist for Chongqing Morning Post from 2005 to 2009. Zhang’s exceptional talent has earned him accolades such as the Prix HSBC pour la Photographie in 2011, the Three Shadows Photography Award in 2010, and the Hou Dengke Photography Award in 2009.
Zhang Xiao’s artistic prowess has been showcased in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including prestigious venues such as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur, Switzerland, Lianzhou Photography Museum in Guangdong Province, China, Shanghai Center of Photography, Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, and A4 Art Museum in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province.
The artist has authored several acclaimed books, including “Shanxi” (2013), “Coastline” (2014), “They” (2014), “The River” (2017), and “A Hometown” (2021). Currently residing and creating in Chengdu, Zhang Xiao received the distinguished Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in 2018.