BANYA AND CHINESE CULTURE

It was Chinese New Year on February 10th, and it is now the Year of the Dragon. There’s a common thread between the banya and the Year of the Dragon as both symbolise warmth.

A well-known and moving Chinese film called “Shower” made in 1999 celebrates the joys and warmth of bathhouse culture. It makes the point that a bathhouse is not just about cleansing the body, but also about coming together and finding community.

In an old district of Beijing, Old Liu and his son Erming run and live in a traditional men’s bathhouse. It offers an array of services, from haircuts to massages, drawing retired locals who while away their days playing checkers and talking about their lives. Liu acts as a friend, guide and therapist to his customers and the bath house helps them to overcome a range of obstacles in their lives. Among the regulars is a man who finds his singing voice only within the bathhouse’s confines, and when another’s marriage is in trouble, Liu arranges a bathtime reconciliation with his wife.

When they learn that the neighbourhood faces redevelopment, emotions run high, and the characters cling to the memories housed within the bathhouse. In the final moments before its demolition, patrons gather for a farewell at the bathhouse. And as one of them serenades them with a familiar song, everyone bids farewell to the bathhouse.

Just as the banya provides warmth and rejuvenation, may the fiery passion of the Dragon bring you prosperity, strength, and joy throughout the upcoming year!

For more discussion of depictions of the banya in cinema, see our blog.