The Yangko dance is a traditional folk dance of the Han Chinese commonly performed in the northern provinces. Yangko dancers usually wear bright and colourful costumes, and their movements are vigorous and quick. During holidays such as lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival, as soon as people hear the sound of drums and gongs they swarm into the streets to watch Yangko dance peformances, no matter how cold it is outside.
Yangko dancers join in the fun during the Wusong Rime Festival in Jilin
In the old days in Northeast China, Yangko performances were divided into two categories, one sponsored by the local government and the other by private clubs. Performances would always begin with a man playing the role of Lord Shagong leading the way. Loard Shagong would usually be an excellent performer, skilled at both singing and narrating. In addition, he had to speak or sing off the cuff, improvising according to what he saw along the way. The dancers were usually dressed up as legendary figures such as Tripitaka, the Monkey King or Pigsy from the novel Journey to the West, or as other characters made famous through tales and myths. All the performers would be dressed in gorgeous clothes and wear heavy make-up.
An interesting aspect of the traditional type of performance was that the Lord Shagong would often use the opportunity of being on stage to voice his own opinions. The Lord Shagong of the officially sponsored teams, for example, would sing and speak in praise of "peace" and "prosperity", while the private club's Lord Shagong would mock various social evils during his performance. Sometimes when competing against each other, two Yangko teams would often clash, occasionally even coming to blows, due to differences of opinion.
Today, the Yangko dance of the Northeast has evolved into a new form known as Little Yangko. The dancers all wear the same costumes and follow the same dance steps as before, and still hold fans or colourful ribbons in their hands. The only difference is that there is no longer a Lord Shagong leading the way.
Big Yangko dancers on the eve of the Lantern Festival. The next morning, the soft snowy ground will have become hard ice after a night of dancing.
In recent years, elderly people in Harbin's suburbs have been organizing themselves into Yangko teams, with the dancers mostly in their enjoy themselves while keeping fit all year round. In the countryside, Big Yangko teams are organized for wedding celebrations, birthday parties and so on. During the busy farming season the dancers work in the fields, but when the lunar New Year comes around they put on their costumes and go to private homes to perform the Yangko dance, ushering in the new year and carrying on an age-old tradition.