Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival and Reception
8:00 PM
May 4, 2012
Granoff Center for the Creative Arts
154 Angell Street

Students installed hundreds of lanterns at the Granoff Center for a one night exhibitStudents installed hundreds of lanterns at the Granoff Center for a one night exhibitIn conjunction with Brown's Year of China, Paul Myoda, Assistant Professor, Visual Art Department's spring semester sculpture studio produced this large-scale light installation inspired by the annual Lantern Festivals celebrated across China. Each of the fifteen students created and produced their own original lantern design. A group of engineering students, led by Rashid Zia, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, designed and built LED light circuits for each sculpture. Programmed to reference the fluttering firelight of traditional Chinese lanterns, over three hundred sculptures blanket the facade of the Granoff Center for one night only and provide the answer to the riddle:


Answer: By having a Lantern Festival so the Jade Emperor thinks that Brown is already burning down! (One of the origin myths behind the traditional Chinese Lantern Festivals is that when a villager killed one of the Jade Emperor’s favorite swans, the Jade Emperor planned to seek revenge by sending his army to burn the entire village down. Feeling sympathy for their plight, the Jade Emperor’s daughter warned the villagers of this plan, and they decided to create the illusion that their village was already burning with as many lanterns as they could make. Satisfied that their village was ruined, the Jade Emperor called off his army.)

More about the Lantern Festival:
A close-up of one of the lantern sculptures created by visual art and engineering students.A close-up of one of the lantern sculptures created by visual art and engineering students.The Lantern Festival (also known as the Yuanxiao Festival or Shangyuan Festival in China; Chap Goh Meh Festival in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore; Yuen Siu Festival in Hong Kong, and "Tết Thượng Nguyên" or "Tết Nguyên Tiêu" in Vietnam) traditionally falls on the fifteenth day of the new year by the lunar calendar and marks the end of the celebration of the Chinese New Year.   Families create beautiful lanterns, which are displayed outside for all to see.  The lanterns have riddles written on them (or riddles embedded in the lantern form), and spectators compete to solve these (cai dengmi 猜燈謎,猜灯谜, literally, “guess the lanterns’ puzzles”).  

There are many different theories about the origins of the Lantern Festival. Some claim that it originated in the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) as an appeal from the emperor to Taiyi 太一, the deity who controlled the destiny of the human world, for fine weather and good fortune.  Others claim that it honors the Daoist god Shangyuan 上元 or Tianguan 天官, who descends to earth on the fifteenth of the first month to inspect human behavior and award blessings or misfortunes accordingly; worshippers hoped to please him with the spectacle of glowing lanterns (the festival is thus also known as Shangyuan jie.)  Not to be outdone, Buddhists believe that it began in the first century, at the command of an emperor who wished to celebrate the arrival of the first Buddhist scriptures in China and to symbolize the power of the Buddha to dispel darkness.

Yet others support a legend that explains the festival as an effort to trick, rather than worship, a god:  after villagers hunted and killed a beautiful crane favored by the divine Jade Emperor, he decided to punish them by burning their village to the ground on the fifteenth day of the new year.  Warned of this plot by the Jade Emperor’s daughter, the villagers panicked, unable to think how to avert this disaster.  A wise man suggested a plan: on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth days of the year, every family in the village should hang red lanterns outside their homes, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers, so that the village would appear to be in flames. And, indeed, when the troops sent by the Jade Emperor to set fire to the village arrived on the fifteenth, they thought the village was already ablaze and returned to report to their master.  From that day on, people celebrate this escape by carrying lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers.  

To view a video about the exhibition, please visit Brown University on YouTube

To view a video of the installation process, please visit Brown University on YouTube