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Behind the scenes at Mojiang's annual twin-undation

By in Travel on

Trying to get twins and quadruplets to stand still long enough for a photo outside Twins Hotel
Trying to get twins and quadruplets to stand still long enough for a photo outside Twins Hotel

Yunnan-based writer Brian Keane traveled 270km southwest of Kunming, to Mojiang Hani Autonomous County (墨江哈尼族自治县) in southern Yunnan for the Mojiang International Twins Festival. Mojiang's twin-undated, and apparently it's something in the water... The article first appeared in the South China Morning Post on May 22nd.

Huge twenty-foot-high inflatable twins in traditional Hani costume are positioned outside the Twins' Hotel and Mojiang TV studios. Government loudspeakers blast local folk music down the streets, through the markets and across every public place. Outside the China Tobacco Building, a doll has collapsed and lies face down on the ground.

It's the last day of April, the day before Twins Festival, and Mojiang is getting ready. Stages are erected, bazaars and food stalls appear from the ether. Over 1,000 pairs of twins, 137,000 tourists and throngs of reporters descend on the little city.

Kunming twins with faces blackened with ash for good luck
Kunming twins with faces blackened with ash for good luck

There are festivals for twins all over the world from the most popular in Twinsburg, Ohio to the slightly more somber Twinless Twins Convention in Florida. But China has more reason than any country to mark the marvel of twins. To legally have two children under a one-child policy is a blessing, and something of which many couples dream.

The chances of conceiving identical (or monozygotic) twins are about 3 in 1,000. This figure is basically uniform throughout the world. But in Mojiang County twins are around 25 percent more frequent. Mojiang government statistics record more than 1,500 identical twins and triplets in a population of only 380,000. Were Mojiang like the rest of the world, it would have only 1,140.

But the real wonder is the village of Hexi (河西村) where there are a staggering 10 sets of identical twins in 100 families. The locals believe this is a result of the magic of Hexi's twin wells. A local legend tells a tale of supernatural fornication, the intervention of a jealous and shifty wizard, and twins transforming into two magic wells. And they have every chance of being right. Identical twins are a mystery; even experts do not understand why an egg splits after conception.

Something in the water or not, the local government is successfully using the phenomenon to launch the region's tourist twin-dustry.

Mojiang has many names and many reasons to celebrate. It's known as Twin City, Gemini City and the Home of Twins. It is also called 'the place where the sun turns' as the Tropic of Cancer cuts through the centre of town. And Mojiang Hani Autonomous County is the only place where the Hani minority people are in the majority, with over 60 percent of the population.

County Leader Li Hong suggests the answer to the twin mystery might be in Mojiang's unique characteristics.

"In Mojiang we see twins, twin animals and twin plants everywhere," Li said. "Experts say this phenomenon is probably relevant to Mojiang's geographic position, the climate conditions and inherited genes, but the specific reasons remain a mystery."

Either way, the local government cleverly combines all three attributes in the International Twins Day and Hani Solar Festival held on May 1 and 2, respectively.

Bizarre is too mild a word for the antics of the 7th Twins Day: tons of identical twins, triplets and quadruplets, a riot of faces smeared black with bags of state-supply ash, Hani minority people celebrating their Sun Festival; music and dancing performances, bare-handed fish catching and tug of war contests in a giant pool of mud, a mass wedding, multiple-birth inducing magic water, heavy drinking and a dinner table set for 4,000 people.

Last year's winners and this year's spokes-twins, Jing Hong and Jing Xiang from Beijing
Last year's winners and this year's spokes-twins, Jing Hong and Jing Xiang from Beijing
The unofficial start to the party is the banquet the night before. The two blonde twins from Beijing, Jing Hong and Jing Xiang, last year's winners of the Gemini Twins Talent Competition and the official spokes-twins of this year's festival, arrive to a frenzy of photographers.

Media men buzz about and cameras flash incessantly. The food is the least important feature at the banquet. There are quadruplet boys from Chuxiong, stunning triplets looking like movie stars and 23 pairs of foreign twins from eight countries.

Bands of beautiful Hani women in traditional costumes of all colors surround each table and sing like sirens using folk drinking songs to cajole everyone to down glasses of the potent local specialty, zigu jiu (紫谷酒), purple rice alcohol.

"Hani people love to sing and drink," says Bai Yunfei, a local Hani celebrity singer at the banquet, "We'll drink you to the floor and then sing you a lullaby." He ganbeis another brandy glass full of the region's green olive wine with a tableful of female Russian identical twosomes that he's just serenaded with a Hani love song.

After dark, thousands of twins and thousands more twin-spotters, make for Taiyang Guangchang (Sun Square), in the centre of Mojiang, for the opening ceremony of the Hani Solar Festival.

On a stage covered in straw, troupes of Hani men and women from each different branch of the Hani minority entertain the masses with their folk songs and dances. The Hani Solar Festival began in Mojiang in 2005 and was celebrated on April 12th.

"It was started so all the different Hani people could come together to have fun and also to promote Hani culture for tourism," says local official Jiang Xi. In 2006 the Solar Festival was twinned with Twins Day.

Inflatable twins in front of the Twins Hotel
Inflatable twins in front of the Twins Hotel

The Hani of all the county's villages strut their stuff on stage. The clothes are wild; black, navy and blue cloth embroidered with intricate colorful patterns. Shining silver discs, studs, and French, Burmese and Indian coins dating back to colonial days are attached all over their jackets and headdresses in elaborate arrangements, all signifying prosperity.

Foot-high conical headdresses called 'u-coes' are covered with silver balls, multicolored beads, bird feathers, long red furry tassels, and again there's no shortage of silver coins and bits of metal. "Our jackets and hats are works of art," says a village leader.

The songs and dances are all about the rituals of village life; picking and planting tea, or love; boy serenades girl, girl seduces boy. The music is bouncy, played on drums, cymbals and Jew's harp. In front of the stage, lots of young twins get up and dance. They mimic the moves and give the pack of photographers a field day.

"My girls are having so much fun. They get to meet so many twins and the culture here is so different and exciting," says Asif Alim, the father of Shazia and Nureem Alim, three-year-old identical dancing Indian twins. Asif is a travel agent in Kolkata. He was contacted by an organizer of the festival who said they were looking for twins. "I couldn't believe my luck. I was very happy to bring my girls to China," he said.

During the final performance of the night, the Hani guys pass a bottle between them. Some break from the circle dance formation and invent their own wobbly number at the front of the stage. A long line of women bump into them like dominos and the dance breaks into a hysterical mish mash of drinking and freestyle.

"They don't take the performance seriously. They just love the music and to dance. It's like Africa," says Kateule Kate Nguluta. "The crowd feels it so they join in the fun," adds her twin sister, Chanda Margaret Nguluta. The 23-year-old fraternal twins come from Zambia and travelled from Africa for the Twin's Festival.

Three big bonfires are lit around Sun Square. The crowd breaks up by itself and forms an enormous circle of handholding dancers around each of the fires. The circles grow too big and have to be doubled, tripled and quadrupled around each inferno. Spiky haired teenagers link arms with old women in brilliant red-feather headdresses. Striking Russian doppelgangers dance with suave mirror-image Philippine twins in dazzling Hani waistcoats.

Teenagers, young men and women, old men and old women, break off into their own smaller more manageable dance circles all around the square and spread up and down the street. "Hani people don't prepare for dancing, we just dance around the fire to relax, to have fun," says one village elder.

At 8:30 the following morning, the Gemini Twins Talent Competition officially kicks off the Twins Day in Mojiang's television studio. The first round focuses mainly on the younger twins. Many of Yunnan's 24 minority groups are represented by double-acts on stage in the full splendor of their culture's costumes.

Sichuan twins who came second in this year's talent show
Sichuan twins who came second in this year's talent show

There are plenty of duets. Two little Dai boys in baby blue silk with shiny gold headbands sing a Dai folk song, and what they lack in a tone they make up for in volume and enthusiasm. Mojiang teenage twin girls sing a Hani song so high-pitched that adults are jealous of the children not ashamed to cover their ears. Two young Bai boys from Dali play the Bai gourd flute terribly to big applause.

On the international front, identical Laotian teenage girls sing a song in Laotian they wrote themselves called 'I Love Mojiang'. And two blonde Russian girls dressed as snow princesses do a leg-kicking sugar plum fairy piece all over the stage.

The mass wedding takes place in the sprawling Tropic of Cancer Park that sits atop a hill on the edge of Mojiang to mark the tropic at 23.5 degrees north of the equator. Thirty couples are enticed by the mass wedding promise:

'Mysterious twin wells, wonderful twin beds, and unique Hani food, are the most likely for you to achieve your good wishes of having twins. Tropic of cancer, witness the happy life.'

The couples exchange vows and are then blessed by Hani identical twin children who rub black ash on the bride and grooms faces, a local tradition to bring good luck.

The couples make their way to Twins Park, the new home of the multiple-birth inducing twin wells. The story goes that the two wells are the incarnation of twins. Long ago a spirit was enchanted by a beautiful girl and impregnated her. But an evil wizard wanted to kill the girl so she was forced to run away from her own village.

She gave birth to twins in Hexi village and the babies became two wells which the villagers use for their daily water. The local people say the wells were blessed by the twins, and now many couples who drink the water have twins.

Non-identical fraternal (or dizygotic) twins occur when a woman releases two eggs simultaneously. This happens much more frequently and is genetic. However, identical twins, triplets or more-lets come about when a single fertilized egg mysteriously splits after conception.

Studies show that 'birth rates for identical twins are consistent across populations; it is the same regardless of race or geography. The cause is unidentified; no one knows why an egg splits. There is no hereditary trait that influences a predisposition to having identical twins.'

Since the 1980s, there has been a significant rise in multiple births, especially in the US and Europe. According to studies this is due to 'an older age at childbearing, women in their thirties are more likely to have a multiple birth, and the more widespread use of fertility enhancing therapies.'

These factors wouldn't notably influence a rural county in Yunnan province where medical sources say most women have children in their early twenties and fertility treatment is not common practice. However with Western statistics affecting the overall average, this makes the Mojiang and especially the Hexi twins' frequency more significant.

Hexi twins Huang Fanglin and Huang Chenglin
Hexi twins Huang Fanglin and Huang Chenglin

"It's the water," says Huang Fengqi, a resident of Hexi and mother of two 13-year-old identical twin girls, "I wanted twins and I drank the water like everybody in Hexi. We've always had a lot of twins in the village but there are more people coming to drink the twin water in the last eight years."

"I think it is because of the sun at the Tropic of Cancer, Mojiang is divided in two, tropical and temperate, and here many things are divided in two," says Luo Chengfeng, a 14-year-old twin Hani boy. Another happy Hani mother of two-month old twin boys from Bixi village says, "I believe in the well legend but I didn't drink the water, I think it must be something in our genes."

Two ten-meter-tall fetus statues guard the entrance to Twins Park. The thirty recently married couples are also greeted by a sculpture of a split ovum showing a pair of identical embryos within. The couples drink the magical well water and are presented with a package of bottled twin water, twin Pu'er tea and more twin-inducing paraphernalia to make them twin-fallable in their twin quest.

A Hani woman displays her collection of local twin vegetables
A Hani woman displays her collection of local twin vegetables

The Twins Parade precedes Mojiang's plunge into pandemonium. Hani men on the Jew's harp and all the Hani village elders in their ceremonial finery announce the parade's arrival. Jing Hong and Jing Xiang, last year's winners of the Happy Gemini Twins Talent Competition, follow in a big red hot rod.

Next is the caravan of huge floats filled with happy waving twins. The last float is the newlyweds who are followed by 100 giant drums and 200 bare-chested Hani drummers. Then a horde of local boys in loin cloths and bright war paint all over their bodies shake tall staffs covered in leaves and make a sound like a plague of cicadas.

There is no official command for all hell to break loose, it just does.

Thousands of people are suddenly armed with bags of government supplied black ash. Sun Square turns into a scene from Braveheart. Bands of warrior Hani do battle armed with fistfuls of the dreaded black ash. The battle rages and engulfs the entire town. Everyone, except the elderly, is fair game.

Even Mojiang police get in on the fun
Even Mojiang police get in on the fun

Government officials and police are the most ferocious. County Leader Li Hong leads a squadron of well-disciplined local officials in tit for tat guerrilla blackenings with a company of Russian and South Korean twins.

"Foreigners will be very popular during this activity," warns local official Jiang Xi. In this context, 'popular' means being set upon by mobs of wildly-smiling able-bodied Hani youths hell-bent on coating every inch of foreigner skin a crusty black.

Not everyone enjoys the ash
Not everyone enjoys the ash
Black is an important color for the Hani people. A blackened face for a young girl means she will grow prettier, a blackened face for an old man means he'll enjoy good health and longevity. Blacken the face of a friend and it signifies a lasting friendship. All in all it means good luck.

Inspired by the traditional Hani Long Street Banquet, the longest boulevard of Mojiang's slick new shopping district, Buxing Jie (Walking Street), is set up for the evening meal. The table, set for 4,000, snakes through the center of the city, a seemingly endless spread of local delicacies.

Twins and their families, newlyweds and all the Hani performers are invited to the feast. Troupes of Hani singers and dancers work their way along the tables with drinking songs encouraging another night of double-vision revelry on the purple rice alcohol.

"This is amazing," say beautiful and exotic 23-year-old Turkish twins, Filiz and Deniz Unal, "There's so many international people, we're surprised to see this number of twins. We'd love to come back next year," says Filiz.

Born and bred in Istanbul to a Turkish father and a Chinese mother, the girls were at a cultural performance in Beijing where they've been studying in university for four years when Yunnan Television asked them to join the Mojiang festival.

Next morning, the Hani go back to their roots with a day of local festivities in nearby Loulong, a five-mile bus ride from modern Mojiang into deepest rural Yunnan. Loulong is a picturesque village, its traditional Hani houses split between two hillsides, facing a long narrow valley. Twins, villagers, tourists, dignitaries, officials and media arrive at the village fairground – an Olympic-size swimming pool of thick watery mud, surrounded by a field of mud.

Mud pool in Loulong village, the scene of the inter-departmental tug-o-war and the Hani fish catching competition
Mud pool in Loulong village, the scene of the inter-departmental tug-o-war and the Hani fish catching competition

City women in leather miniskirts teeter about in the muck in six-inch heels. A young boy, naked from the waist down throws a dead fish in the air and catches it again. Dozens of young girls make clacky-clappy noises with state-supplied plastic hand contraptions.

Champion Hani fish catcher
Champion Hani fish catcher
Everyone who's anyone is in Loulong to see the inter-departmental township tug-o-war and the fiercely competitive barehanded fish catching contest. The former is won by the strong men and women of the educational department, and the latter, which routinely turns into mass mud-splashing mayhem, is won by the most ruthless of fish-lovers.

The finals of the Gemini Twins Talent Competition are held that evening in Mojiang's sports stadium. This is a serious competition – destined to be the X Factor for twins the world over. Only the most dedicated twins and multiples can make this stage. The arena is packed, and everyone's been issued with a light saber, plus the plastic hand clappers are out in force again. CCTV cameras swivel over the crowds on giant mechanical arms to catch the spectacle.

Twin Ta Liu minority singers from Lijiang
Twin Ta Liu minority singers from Lijiang

Yi minority teenage triplets from Yuxi do an eighties-style Technotronic 'fashion dance' in spandex. Twin Lijiang women, obviously trained professionals, sing a traditional number in their Ta Liu minority Morris dancer's outfits. Two young twins from Sichuan in spangled pink dresses do an elegant and well choreographed ballet piece. A total of ten finalists perform before a row of no-messing-about judges with harsh Simon Cowell-style criticisms.

The talent show winners
The talent show winners
The Russian twins seem to think they're competing in Slutwars. They prowl on stage in tight backless leopard cat-suits complete with suggestive tails. They have the full attention of every adult male in the crowd as they grind their hips at the audience, tails thrust in the air. Nobody told them it's a family affair.

The Russian girls are announced the winners. They'll be the spokes-twins for 8th International Twin's Festival in the Twin's City - that will be worth a look. Twins Festival is an inspired idea, and one that Li Hong hopes will 'give a mutual exchange platform for all twins around the world.' And with multiple births soaring in the west, this party is only in its first trimester.

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Wow - this is the second Hani festival I've learned about within a year. I have known the name, as a friend adopted a Hani girl more than a dozen years ago from a Kunming orphanage. I also had a Hani pen-pal lass from 2005 to 2010, when she suddenly disappeared after heading home to the Hexi area from Guangzhou. Nary a word heard since then. Ma Fang Fang - if you're reading this... I'm still awaiting news!
But, even though I traveled through the area back in 2000... I find that GO KUNMING teaches me about so much I missed; so many places and cultures I may never see, that it has become my most enjoyable evening read once a week. Thank you for keeping my travel interests alive!


Thanks for this great description of the festival; it's nice to get the details with an "inside" view. My twin brother and I had the great fortune to attend the 1st festival (in 2005) and the 6th festival (in 2010). It was a mind-blowing experience, and one that we hope to repeat again sometime.

I don't know whether links are permitted here, but in case they are you can see our pictures from those two festivals here:



I am an identical twin from Minneapolis, MN.

Having attended this festival with my brother in 2005 (the first year!) and again just last year in 2010, I have to say that you've nailed it perfectly.

It has grown from a sort of loose, rag-tag affair to a very large and obviously well-funded production. We've never felt so loved and appreciated as during our 4-day stay in Mojiang. The people and the city are just absolutely wonderful.

Especially enjoyed your comments about "There is no official command for all hell to break loose, it just does.". The ash caught us a little off-guard!

If you don't mind, I'll include a link to my photos from our trip there. The bus-ride from Kunming to Mojiang with the Russians starts in the middle of page 5 here:


Thank you for this wonderfully charming article! I very much enjoyed it.



This is one of the most comprehensive (English) and best descriptions of the festival I have read online. My twin sister and I travelled to Mojiang in 2010 for the 6th festival and are from Nova Scotia, Canada. (travelled with John and Charles Robinson who have posted above.)

The local official is right, foreigners were VERY popular during the ash activity. Being fair skinned with red hair we were a prime target!

Great Article. :)

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