Dear Dad,

Letters Alive. Time flies, it’s been thirty years since you passed away. I wonder how you are doing in heaven, or perhaps hell is more fitting for someone like you. I had a nightmare, which is partly why I’m writing you this letter. In the dream, you were still a national intangible cultural heritage inheritor of Iron Flowering, but proud as you were, your solitary “rescue” efforts still couldn’t change the fate of Iron Flowering slipping away. Your hard work couldn’t catch up to the speed at which Iron Flowering was being forgotten in people’s mind, and even many young people have never seen the beauty and brilliance of iron flowers. As a father, what did you know about me? You have never realized that you planted the seed of dream in my heart since childhood. I was only 6 or 7 years old when you brought me to watch your performance, that time I saw the scenery that I will never forget in my life. When bundles of iron flowers shot into the sky, the crowd erupted in cheers. The iron flower performers were all bare-chested, striking iron rods one after another under the canopy. The canopy was lit up with swirling flags, deafened by firecrackers, and surrounded by cheering crowds. Dragon lanterns danced below the canopy, with strings of them weaving through the flowers. At that moment, I, a spectator, also wanted to create such splendor – “I wish I could make iron flowers too” – this simple thought took root in my mind. But you have told me over and over again that this technique is not suitable for women to try and practice, because iron flowering required immense strength and precision, and carried the risk of burns. So it had been passed down from father to son for thousands of years, never to daughters. You let me experience the most extreme romance – the millennia-old craft of iron flowering, yet how cruel you were! You aroused a little girl’s most primitive desire, but you personally destroyed her dreams. You underestimated a girl’s persistence for her dreams. My secret practice didn’t gain your understanding. Your rage was like a knife stabbing my heart. Did you still remember? You smashed all my belongings, threw me out of the house, made me kneel and beg for your forgiveness, forbidding me from ever touching and learning iron flowering again. That time you succeeded. You broke my wings so I couldn’t fly, only crawl on the ground. After all these years, I thought I had forgotten the humiliation and pain, but those nightmarish scenes still replayed in the middle of the night.

But I want to tell you – you may have struck me down, but you could never defeat me. Your only regret on your deathbed was not finding a worthy successor. Yet today, thirty years later, the daughter you looked down upon has become an inheritor of this intangible cultural heritage. The outcome you least wanted to see has become reality. Would you feel even more regretful? You said women were inferior, but I want to tell you that every woman’s strength is tough and brave, and women can also inherit the brilliant and colorful Chinese intangible cultural heritage. Since your passing, I started a female iron flowering performance troupe. Like you once did, I refused male members – this time it’s my turn to clip their wings. There are only three criteria for my recruits: female, aptitude and passion. You claimed women’s physique to be weaker, but you were terribly mistaken. Nowadays, science and technology are highly developed, and medicine can make up for congenital disadvantages. Since they were young, I had selected and cultivated girls with talent and enthusiasm. With the help of muscle building powder, power potion and medical equipment, genes can be changed, so that they have strength and physical strength beyond ordinary people. Persistence conquers innate deficiencies. Spontaneous learning and training will breed laziness, so I revolutionized the training model, gathering trainees in specialized camps, providing their meals and allowances, spurring them with devilish drilling and relentless perseverance to master the techniques. It’s never outdated for late bloomers can still fly in any era.Iron flowering has three key skills. Firstly, smelting iron. The second is to put up a flower shed, the flower shed to tie firecrackers, so it must be strong, stable and beautiful. The third is the iron flower, to play high, play scattered, there are eight corners on the flower shed, each corner has a fireworks, 12 meters to 15 meters high on the old pole. There is a ninth fireworks, to ensure that these fireworks can be hit. I improved the construction of the ancient flower shed, restoring the “one origin, two manifestations, four images, five elements” principle when the ancient Taoist priest built the flower shed. I also modernized the iron-smelting process, replacing primitive bellows with air compressors, greatly enhancing efficiency. The addition of female roles also enhanced the charm of iron flower craft, integrating more tenderness along with feminine power and wisdom. We replaced the traditional conical hats and straw hats worn by iron flower performers with gourds, using materials nowadays that provide even better protection against heat and fire, transforming the gourd into a “safety helmet”. First of all, gourds are auspicious symbols in Chinese culture, homophonous with “blessings and prosperity”, so wearing a gourd implies “blessings and prosperity overhead”. Then, gourds are ubiquitous and conveniently obtained. Unlike straw hats that obstruct vision, gourds are lighter and more convenient when manipulating the dragon lantern. Furthermore, compared to conical hats that easily catch fire and are difficult to remove once alight, gourds integrated with new technological materials are less flammable. The gourd’s hard shell causes the molten iron to spray in all directions when it lands, thus reducing the amount of iron that falls on the body. Our first performance was a resounding success. Molten iron at 1600 degree burst towards the firmament, a dazzling iron flower rain unfolding across the night sky like a sea of stars, fiery trees and silver flowers, at times swirling dragons breaching from their caves – a breathtakingly sublime cycle of mutating iron flora. This fleeting incandescence and grandeur earned more than the audience’s exuberance – it symbolized the rejuvenation of a millennia-old craft and the elegant might of womanpower.

You have remarked countless times that we are a nation rich in intangible cultural heritage, yet the living conditions of many folk arts remain far from ideal. Over 30 years ago, intangible cultural heritage faced many dilemmas, such as the skills existed but not the people to inherit them, the ideas existed but not the capabilities, the crafts existed but not the fame, the products existed but not the markets. However, with the continuous development of digital technologies, the once near-extinct iron flower craft has been given new life and vitality. Digital technology empowers the inheritance of intangible heritage, transforming iron flowers from synonyms for the “ancient” and “obsolete”. At present, intangible cultural heritage digital archives have become another major model for safeguarding and transmitting intangible heritage, in addition to traditional tangible archives. By digitizing textual, visual, and audio records of iron flowers and us inheritors, and partnering with cultural museums, we have launched digitized smart museum services. Through intelligent interaction, hologram projection and other means, we have made iron flower exhibitions more vivid, and enriched visitors’ experiences. Leveraging new media, intangible culture once scattered across distant lands can now be shared with the masses. This virtual exhibition stands to engage people of all ages and backgrounds, sparking curiosity in the younger generation. As if reaching from tongue to fingertip, online videos have granted an intimate glimpse into these endangered arts, their vast scope limited only by the bounds of imagination. Moreover, by integrating metaverse concepts, we have created another stage for displaying intangible heritage. It’s almost unimaginable that this intangible folk art form has now launched NFT digital collectibles, arousing greater passion for it and thus promoting the dissemination and inheritance of intangible culture.

I have accomplished things that you were unable to, but I also have the same helplessness as you. Under the great wheels of The Times, intangible cultural heritage is gradually becoming exhibit pieces trapped in glass cases. Although still loved and appreciated, it remains detached from modern life. How can we make iron flower really “live” and “popular”? Relying solely on passion and enthusiasm can no longer sustain it – even I am barely holding on! I cannot tolerate too many modern elements being incorporated into iron flowers. The abundant cultural connotations and authentic ethnic culture cannot be defeated by reality. Nowadays many so-called iron flower performances use the technique of “patting” rather than “hammering”. Some even “spin iron flowers” during performances, but molten iron cannot be spun – the materials used are charcoal powder or steel wool. These “pseudo iron flowers” have lost the traditional cultural symbolism. Adding insult to injury, Troupe without financial backing are like loose sand, on the verge of collapse at any second. Life is always so difficult, passion alone cannot foot the bill. Though iron flower craft is an intangible cultural heritage, it is still responsible for its own profit and loss. Apart from meager earnings from the annual Iron Flower Performance Grand Convention, regular small-scale shows are solely for pleasure and passion, barely breaking even. Operating at a loss has become the norm. At the same time, moral condemnation leaves me gasping for air. Inheriting iron flowers is an arduous task, and passing down folk acrobatic skills requires enduring long-term rigorous training. The hardships behind the incredible skills are difficult for outsiders to comprehend. Facing high-pressure environments, dangerous molten iron, and years of harsh training that deforms their figures due to long-term medication, the girls are starting to revolt. I have become the source of their misery, pointed at by thousands. But I did it all for their sake! So they could proudly become inheritors of iron flowers, and they could have the right to freely and equally learn the skills. Clearly, you were the executioner, stifling my dreams. Yet after your death, it seems I’ve become the person I least wanted to be.

I promised these girls that on January 1st, 2050, after the annual Iron Flower Performance Grand Conventioncomes to an end, after experiencing the fiery romance one last time, I would disband the troupe and fully restore their freedom. In ancient times, iron flowers were not exclusively for the nobility. Common folk would make iron flowers during festivals to dispel evil and pray for blessings, courage, peace and prosperity. Under such an auspicious vision, I have become an utter failure. The skills I took pride in for years were not passed down. My meticulous nurturing of the girls, creating a utopian world for them, has become a joke in the end. All efforts were in vain. I once hoped civilization would continue like an eternal flame, but now I’ve decided to ruin everything. To avoid the bad ending, I avoided all beginnings. So I became the executioner as you are. Everything went according to my plan. Molten iron over one thousand degrees Celsius mixed with lethal toxins ruptured rapidly overhead like a meteor shower, transient yet dazzling, beautiful yet deadly. Amidst cheers and brilliant iron flowers, the girls were reborn in the flames, smiling in the inferno. Submerged in the black golden iron flowers, the girls carrying dreams and futures disappeared.

They all died, maybe today, maybe yesterday.

Death is not the end of life, perhaps forgetting is. I’ve had enough, I’m really fed up. Let everything end, let the pain, struggle and beauty be destroyed together! This is the first and last letter I have written to you after all these years.

The first shower of iron flowers signifies governance uniting people, iron flowers bringing auspice.

The second evokes halls filled with cheer, health and longevity abounding.

The third tells of the future rising high, succeeding at every step ahead.

The fourth foretells smooth sailing through life, all wishes coming true…

The childhood ditty rings again in my ears. It’s time the dream ended, and perhaps I must face my punishment.


Your daughter whom you never understood