Huge visitor demand sees Zigong lantern festival extended

Lanterns featuring three faces of the Monkey King greet visitors at an entrance to the lantern fair in Zigong, Sichuan province. (Photo by Huang Zhiling/

It is the time of year when people from around the country flock to the lantern fair in Zigong, Sichuan province.

Lantern fairs are usually held during the Lantern Festival which is the end of the Spring Festival.

As so many visitors want to see lanterns in Zigong, the city's fair will not end until the middle of next month, said Li Jian, deputy chief of the city's tourism administration.

On February 10, the fourth day of this year's Spring Festival, organizers had to ask visitors not to rush to Zigong.

It was only five kilometers from Zigong on the expressway but it was taking vehicles more than two hours to reach the city because so many wanted to see the lanterns.

Organizers had to delay the sale of tickets to discourage visitors from thronging to the city.

"The influx of people from across the country offers testimony to how popular Zigong's lanterns are. Its organizers have held the lantern fair in some 40 countries in Asia, Europe and America and it has drawn nearly 300 million viewers," said Xu Huanying, a visitor from Pixian, Sichuan who has visited the lantern fair in Zigong twice.

The fair this year is unique because it features the ancient Silk Road with lanterns displaying sites along the route such as Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the Jiayu Pass and the Loulan Kingdom in China.

It also depicts scenes in Nagoya, Japan and landmark buildings in France such as the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower because the Silk Road started in China and radiated its influence on Asia and Europe culturally and economically.

Lanterns feature the Eiffel Tower. (Photo by Huang Zhiling/

Covering 13 hectares, this year's fair consisting of 110,000 lanterns has drawn French clowns to give performances and 3-D balloons from the United States.

The popularity of the fair has resulted in an unprecedented number of visitors to the Zigong Dinosaur Museum about 30 minutes' drive from the site and the Zigong Salt History Museum about 10 minutes' drive from the site.

The Zigong Dinosaur Museum, the first specialized dinosaur museum in Asia, was built at a dinosaur fossil site with 180 skeletons of 17 species more than 100 million years old, dating from the Jurassic Period.

Since opening 30 years ago, the museum has been attracting paleontologists, dinosaur enthusiasts and visitors from around the world. Millions have visited, said Li Yi, a manager in the museum.

Known as the salt capital of China, Zigong has a history of salt production dating back more than 2,000 years.

This fascinating history of salt-well production and its cultural, economic and environmental impact is told in chronological order at the museum.

Zigong produces 40 percent of China's well and rock salt. Visitors can see how workers boil brine in eight cauldrons to extract salt at a workshop in the Shenhai Well about 20 minutes' drive from the museum.

Drilled in 1835, Shenhai was the first well in the world to exceed a depth of 1,000 meters.

"The eight cauldrons produce 2,000 kilograms of salt a day," said Zhang Jinming, a 54-year-old who has worked at the well for 11 years.