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March Street Fair of the Bai Nationality

Visiting Dali during the March Street Fair is a refreshing experience. It is the best season of the locality. Though lingering traces of snow are still visible at certain less-shone places of the Cangshan Hill, azaleas have come in bloom and the blackish hill looks like a girl’s flushing, pinkish face. Belts of white clouds drift around the hill’s waist, and the Erhai Lake at its foot is dotted with white sails and islands. Water ripples, and the lake looks like a big loving eye, with willow twigs gently brushing against its bank like fluttering eyelashes. The cheerful season makes it an ideal time for a festival like March Street Fair. 

Cangshan Hill and the Erhai Lake, March Street Fair, Sanyuejie Festival

The Cangshan Hill and Erhai Lake, Dali

People of all races heading for the March Street Fair. The three towers are a Dali landmark.


March Street Fair (san yue jie) is the most important festival for the Bai nationality, an ethnic minority group in the southwestern province of Yunnan. It falls in mid-“March” (the third month) on Chinese lunar calendar (often corresponding largely to April on the Gregorian calendar).


March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

People of the Ethnic Bai Group

Prevalent in Dali, the festival was initially a Buddhist religious event. According to legends, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (more popularly known as “Guan-Yin-Pu-Sha” among Han Chinese population) would come to Dali and give preaching to local people. Therefore, at this time every year, believers would set up cloth sheds to worship him, giving rise to an annual Buddhist temple fair where sutras were chanted and offerings made.


It happened that Dali was a traffic hub – the Tea-Horse Trade Route runs through here – and believers who came for the religious events from various parts of the region would carry bundles of commodities for trade. The temple fair has gradually developed into a folk commodity trade fair in western Yunnan with nationwide influence. Dali horses, for example, were traditionally imported to China’s inland regions through this fair.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

The busy street

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Vendors surrounded by customers

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

The fair usually lasts for around a week at the foot of the Cangshan Hill. Attending the fair are not only the Bai people, but also other ethnic groups in nearby regions – the Han, Tibetan, Yi, Naxi, Lisu, and Hui peoples – who get dressed in festive attires, herd livestock and carry forest and farm products and home-made daily necessities for trade, making the square a bustling market place. People trade during the daytime, and indulge themselves in singing and dancing and performances at night. Folk sports like archery, horse racing, and ball games are played, too, adding a touch of masculinity to the soft breeze and sunshine of springtime.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Ethnic Bai girls flip the whips to signal the beginning of the annual Fair.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Sports activities like archery are held alongside the Fair.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Plucking the red flags from a galloping horse.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Singing competition - players sing self-improvised lyrics to counter each other.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Bonfire party. Tourists may join them.

March Street Fair of Ethnic Bai, Dali

Tourists from around the world.



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