The picture shows fresh mackerel is selling well in fresh seafood markets. [Photo: dzwww.com]
A Chinese mackerel festival was held in Qingdao, a coastal city in eastern China's Shandong province.
Several cities worldwide have a festival celebrating local features, but it's rare to name a festival after a fish.
To date, the mackerel festival has a fifteen-year long history, with the added wrinkle of promoting the Chinese tradition of filial piety. Shen Ting has more.
Mackerel has a special and deep significance for local residents in Qingdao. This all stems from a 100-year old legend.
Lu Han is a local folklore expert.
"There was an orphan boy named Little Wu, who was later adopted by a kindhearted old couple. Little Wu grew up to be an honest and benevolent man, and the old couple allowed him to marry their young daughter. One day his father-in-law was suddenly ill, and wanted to eat fish. However, persistent, strong wind had stopped all fishing boats. Despite this, Little Wu risked his life and went fishing. When Little Wu finally came back home with a big, fresh mackerel, the father-in-law had passed away. In sadness, Little Wu and his wife cooked the fish and sacrificed it at the father's shrine. Later, the young couple paid respects at their father's tomb with fresh mackerel every spring."
This story was told from generation to generation, helping to boost the virtue of filial piety among local citizens.
Every spring, locals go to the market and purchase fresh mackerel for the senior members of the family.
Gifting mackerel to Chinese parents and parents-in law during springtime has developed into a common expression of filial piety. The local seafood market is usually abuzz with crowds of consumers in April and May.
"Seafood in Qingdao is seasonal, and it is now the best season to enjoy Chinese mackerel, which is perfect in many different ways".
"I bought it for my father-in-law. It's a local custom. Both my wife and I are locals, and we've been married for four years. Each year, I buy Chinese mackerel for my father-in-law."
"I bought more than twenty kilograms of Chinese mackerel for both my parents and my in-laws. I do it every year."
"The bigger and fresher the Chinese mackerel they are given, the more proud parents-in-law would feel."
In China, fish is a must-eat table delicacy for both treating guests and offering sacrifices. The scale-less mackerel is highly favored by local consumers in Qingdao.
Qingdao folklore expert Lu Han explains again:
"Mackerel is a migratory fish that swims along ocean currents. It has been said that the meat of the mackerel stocks in the seas of Qingdao is the most delicious. Locals also use mackerel as a sacrifice, which demonstrates that this species of fish holds a special position in the city."
The special status of mackerel in Qingdao is a decisive factor in making mackerel so popular. Harvesting thousands of kilograms of mackerel for commercial purposes each day is a common scene at the local Shazikou National Fishing Port & Fisherman's Wharf.
Yu Xiao is a local fisherman.
"We docked at the harbor at 6:30 a.m., after we captured two to three thousand kilos of fish, which were sold out within two hours."
This year, the fish moratorium was set on May 1st, one month ahead of schedule. Local fishermen explain that the mackerel output in May is at its highest and that shifting the fish moratorium to an earlier date will undoubtedly affect this year's mackerel output and therefore could lead to a price hike.
"The fish moratorium is now being enacted during mackerel harvest season, which would affect the price for sure. So far, the mackerel output remains low."
"Sales are better than in previous years and mackerel is sold at a higher price now since the output is less."
Mackerel is widely regarded as one of the ten most nutritious marine fish species. Locals are very creative with the way they eat mackerel in Qingdao, including making mackerel dumplings, mackerel cake, smoked mackerel and braised mackerel. Their favorite dishes often involve smoked mackerel recipes which are easy to prepare at home.
The Mackerel Festival was launched in 2003, and now enters the fifteenth year. Part of the intangible cultural heritage of Qingdao, the festival is well received by both local residents and tourists.
Tourists arrive in Shazikou's scenic areas in order to taste mackerel, feast their eyes on the picturesque local landscape and also develop their understanding of local cultural customs.
Qu Zhiwu is head of the Laoshan Aquatic Production Chamber.
"A main goal of the local mackerel festival is to carry forward the Chinese virtue of filial piety in our society. After 15 years of effort, Shazikou has successfully raised awareness about this important value in its communities. A processing chain has been well developed, starting from the acquisition of fisheries, aquatic products' processing and finally marketing. Though the fishing period was cut short, the mackerel output still sees an annual growth of eight percent."
Today, local residents are celebrating the Mackerel Festival, with a dance named "Gentle Breeze and Timely Rain"; showing the fishermen's yearning for the good harvest.
A tourist surnamed Hu felt quite stirred as she watched the show.
"This is my first time attending the Mackerel Festival. I enjoy watching so many interesting programs like the friendly competitions between sons-in law trying to catch the biggest mackerels for their in-laws. This game will help awaken the old customs carrying the filial culture."
According to Lu Han, Chinese society hopes to carry forward the traditional cultural values. This mackerel festival holds significance in boosting the folk customs of the fishing communities in coastal areas and also helps them to remember the best part of their history and culture.