Hanoi’s Enduring Tug-of-War: A Legacy of Entertainment and Tradition

Every year, travelers to Hanoi are treated to a spectacle, a century-old game.

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Tug-of-war is played all over the world, but sitting tug-of-war is its funkier version. This ancient game can only be found at the Tran Vu Temple Festival in Thach Ban Ward of Long Bien District on the outskirts of Hanoi.

The Tran Vu Temple Festival is held on the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar to commemorate Saint Huyen Thien Tran Vu – a major deity in Taoism.

In 2019, the unique game and the festival were inscribed as a national intangible cultural heritage and on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

 The festival begins with a ceremony in honor of Saint Huyen Thien Tran Vu.
 The bamboo pole used for tug-of-war practice is raised three times by the game leaders to lift the spirits of the participants. 
 The game will start shortly after the leaders of each group have identified their team members.
 Sitting tug-of-war is played on a clay court. 
 Two teams sit at either end of a rope and try to pull it away from the other. 
The pole is passed through a wooden pillar placed on the ground between the two teams. 
Participants must be aged between 18 and 55.

 To be eligible, players must belong to a family that has lived in the area for up to five generations.

Every year the organizers change the number of players per team – it can be 15, 17, 19 or 24.
 In this year’s game, each group consists of 19 members.
The majority of the participants are men who are healthy and well-muscled.
 The drummer controls the sitting tug-of-war games.
The teams take their positions in preparation for the competition.
As soon as the game controller gives the go signal, the participants try their best to pull the pole towards them.

The cheers of the crowd help to fuel the players’ spirits.
In sitting tug-of-war, the weaker team can win if they know how to grab the rope and manipulate it on the pillar.
 The sitting tug-of-war game and the Tran Vu Temple Festival are said to encourage people to exercise for good health and represent the ancient locals’ wish for a bumper harvest.