Bai Choi Festival, original spring game

Bai Choi, where game and folk music meet, was once very popular in the south central region, after a dip in its popularity, the art form is making resurgence. The ceremonies and rites of the ancient Bai Choi Festival have been restored in several localities and this folk art is will soon submit a profile to UNESCO for recognition as a world intangible cultural heritage.


Artist Hoang Viet plays the umpire (photo: Nguyen Van Que-NDO)

A Bai Choi Festival comprises of nine bamboo huts with three to five people in each hut. Eight huts are arranged in a rectangular shape with one hut in the middle, where the game's umpire or ‘Hieu’ sits.

Thirty bamboo cards with different illustrations and words make a set of Bai Choi cards. When the game begins, the umpire gives each hut three different bamboo cards. The umpire then draws out a bamboo stick from a wooden tube, representative of one of the cards, and sings a sentence of a folk song having the same words as upon the stick and thus upon the card of the player.

The players hit the bell three times to signal a match and the umpire will present the matched stick to the winners. To win the game one of the huts must have three matched cards.

Bai Choi was initially simpler to play. Over time, to make the game more interesting, people added short folk songs during the game called ‘thai’. ‘Thai’ is the sentence of a folk song, which has the same words as the cards and is sung by the umpire. Thus, the umpire is also called a thai artist. During the game, besides thai singing, the umpire also makes movements matched with the content of the cards.

So far, only Binh Dinh central province has successfully restored all of the ceremonies and rites of the ancient Bai Choi Festival.

Chairman of the Binh Dinh province’s Association of Literature and Arts, Nguyen An Pha said that the ancient Bai Choi Festival in Binh Dinh took place on the Lunar New Year and people played the game to wish for a lucky new year. - NDO


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