Chinese Burn

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What began as a gathering of 12 friends on the beach in 1986 has since grown into a 70,000-strong annual extravaganza in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.  The weeklong experiment in art and community sees a mass migration deep into the scorching wilderness, the construction of a vast encampment dotted with towering wooden sculptures, and a carnival of raw human expression culminating in an apocalyptic blaze.  But as any ‘burner’ will tell you, it’s impossible to explain Burning Man.  To truly understand it, it must be experienced. 

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Burning Man 2015

A growing number of these burners are attempting to recreate that experience in various locations worldwide.  Shanghai’s Dragon Burn was launched in 2014 by a group of experienced burners led by Sven Aarne, one of the 80-odd participants in 1987 at the second ever ‘Burning Man’ on the beach in San Francisco.  Burning Man’s relationship with the Middle Kingdom first began in 2004, when it featured a Chinese Speakers Tea Party for Chinese attendees to gather in the Nevada desert, a tradition that has continued every year since. 

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Burning Man 2015

Physically, Dragon Burn bears no resemblance to its Nevada counterpart.  300 people in a park with built-in amenities is a far cry from the hordes that populate the unforgiving Nevada desert, and Shanghai burners will (probably) find no ‘mutant vehicles’, orgies or nudity in Anji this year.  What connects it, and other affiliated events, with Burning Man, and differentiates it from other conventional festivals, is ten guiding principles.  Free of commercial interests (decommodification), the cashless communes necessitate self-reliance and a system of gifting, while ‘leave no trace’ dictates no litter or scars should be left on the site after the event. Inclusiveness is mandatory and self-expression central, whether that is to create art, hug a stranger, or just get high and sprinkle someone with glitter.

Burning Man 2013

Burning Man 2013

As such, Dragon Burn features no sponsors, no cash on-site and all money from ticket sales will go to grants for art installations, administrative costs and the 12-foot dragon effigy that will be constructed by a team of volunteers and incinerated on the last night.  Burners will bring their own food, drink at a free bar and can enjoy free massages, yoga or any of the other workshops provided by fellow community members.

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Burning Man 2015

Aarne acknowledges that transferring and upholding the ten principles in a new territory, especially one as commercially-driven and environmentally indifferent as China, poses challenges, but believes it is a cause worth undertaking, “When people are no longer surrounded by money and commerce, they change. Those moments are precious and the founding volunteers of Dragon Burn are trying to share that unique interaction with the people that attend.  Our goals are to hold events where cell phones and selfies are useless, where your experience is personal and treasured.” 

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Burning Man 2015

Dragon Burn has been gathering momentum since launching in 2014.  This year, half of the tickets have already been sold without any marketing, submissions to construct art installations have risen to 70 up from 15 last year, and there are plans to construct more small stages to accommodate the extra volunteer DJs.  Organisers are seeking to shift the balance away from the previous foreigner dominated events by attracting a larger Chinese contingent, an aim that should be aided by a growing awareness of the Burning Man philosophy through Chinese social media. 

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Burning Man 2013

Dragon Burn may be incomparable with its US forefather, but remains one of the more unique among the recent wave of festivals to hit China, particularly as it is expressly non-profit.  It will be interesting to see how the principles resonate with the increasing number of Chinese burners and how large the movement is able to grow in the coming years.

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Burning Man 2015

The Ten Principles

  1. Radical Inclusion: Welcoming and respecting the stranger.  Anyone may participate.
  2. Gifting: Instead of cash, participants are encouraged to rely on a gift economy.
  3. Decommodification: Creating social environments without commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. No cash transactions are permitted.
  4. Radical self-reliance: Encouraging the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. Participants must bring all their own supplies.
  5. Radical self-expression: Encouraging self-expression through various art forms and projects. The event is clothing-optional and public nudity is common.
  6. Communal effort: Valuing creative cooperation and collaboration and striving to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces and works of art.
  7. Civic responsibility: Assuming responsibility for public welfare and endeavoring to communicate civic responsibilities to participants.
  8. Leaving no trace: Committing to leaving no physical trace after the event.
  9. Participation: Encouraging deep personal participation to help achieve transformative change.
  10. Immediacy: Overcoming inter-personal barriers, recognition of inner selves and reality of others, participation in society, and contact with the natural world.

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Burning Man 2015

 

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