Fire and Fury
Fire and Fury
This chapter focuses on two rituals, each unique to a specific locale (Taidong and Dali) and both characterized by dramatic public displays of male bravado. Both the ritual of Blasting Handan Ye (Taidong) and the Torch Festival (Dali) feature the controlled but inherently and conspicuously dangerous exposure of (male) bodies to fire and incendiary explosives (that is, firecrackers). Participants risk injury and even death, ostensibly for the sake of communal fertility, but also in pursuit of individual affirmation as a particular kind of vigorous, aggressively masculine man. It is argued that the defiant, violent, even rebellious style of macho aggressivity displayed by the risk takers is instrumental to the community-affirming outcome of the ritual through the implied link between aggressive masculinity and male sexual prowess that is ritually shared across the group through the public “sacrifice” of the actors. The chapter also describes how both rituals have served as sites of political conflict: both were suppressed by the authorities in the late twentieth century, reemerging briefly as expressions of autonomous local identity in the late 1980s, only to be quickly coopted by the vicissitudes of globalization and economic development (specifically tourism) since the early 1990s.
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