Here's Why Sanya Gets This Day Off While Most of China Doesn't

By Vanessa Jencks, April 13, 2021

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

On April 14, the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar, or 三月三, Sanya will take a day off.

China’s national law allows for local provinces to set holidays and honor customs in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, and in Sanya, the Li People are an honored and celebrated minority group. 

Sanya already held some big celebrations for the holiday this past weekend, including a whole theater production of song and dance combined with video and lights.

san-yue-san-li-people-2.jpgImage via Sanya People's Government Website

According to Sogou Encyclopedia, the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar has been celebrated as an officially recognized holiday of the Li People since 1984, when Hainan was still governed by Guangdong province.

READ MORE: This Day in History: Hainan Island Becomes a Province

The main folktale surrounding March 3 is about Li Mei, the youngest girl of three, and Ah Qiang, a clever, well-liked and kind-hearted farmer from a poor family.  

Li Mei has incredible pressure from her parents and residents to marry rich suitors, as all of her older sisters married into wealthy families. Li Mei, however, refuses to marry any of them as she has affection for Ah Qiang.

They grew as friends through their shared passion for studying ancient literature and poetry. Their love comes to a boiling point through a folksong competition where the two of them end up on stage singing a duet. 

They both win first prize and, through the competition, Li Mei grows to admire Ah Qiang’s amazing qualities even more. She stays on when everyone leaves and promises she’ll never marry anyone else except him. 

As things go with marriage in China, poor guys struggle to get the girl, and Ah Qiang’s fate is no different. Their love is well-known around the community and many people promised to help with gifts for the bride’s family. Ah Qiang is doubtful, even with this help, but Li Mei convinces him to try.

san-yue-san-li-people.jpgImage via Sanya People's Government Website

One night, Li Mei sneaks out to find Ah Qiang and they pour out their love to each other. In the middle of this meeting, a family member grabs Li Mei and brings her back home. On discovery, her parents refuse the marriage, despite Li Mei’s sobs and pleas.

Li Mei determines to commit suicide due to her vow. Upon reading the notes left for them, her parents regret interfering with their daughter’s freedom of marriage. The whole village discovers this, and everyone cries over her death.

In the meantime, Ah Qiang had fallen into despair at not being able to marry Li Mei. When the news of her death comes, he has the thought that perhaps he would marry after death. He goes to see Li Mei’s body. 

When he gets up to leave suddenly, he hits his head on a house beam and dies, leaving them lying together in death. The villagers sing for three days and nights before burying Li Mei and Ah Qiang.

So it came to pass that the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar marks the memory of these two young lovers, who died for their faithful and unyielding love.

In remembrance of the couple, the Li and Miao people remember their ancestors, celebrate new life, and pursue love. Food eaten on this holiday includes steamed sticky rice, chicken, duck and fish. Families visit graves to sweep tombs, people gather to sing songs and song competitions are held.

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READ MORE: Sanya's Top 10 WeChat Groups

[Cover image via @三亚学院微生活/Weibo]

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