The second Chinese New Year set for 2021 is the larger 80107 Spring Lantern Festival, introducing LEGO® fans to this special day in traditional Chinese New Year celebrations with a stunning 1793-piece Chinese Garden display. As discussed in our preview article, this is another set filled with wonderful pieces, but does the building experience live up to the hype?
Just like 80106 Story of Nian, which I reviewed yesterday, the instructions begin with a gorgeous full-page illustration of what people do during the Spring Lantern Festival.
Spring Lantern Festival isn’t the same as the Mid-Autumn Festival (which confusingly is also known as the "Lantern Festival”), and it isn’t just another celebration of the Chinese New Year. It is the first full moon of the year, which falls on the 15th day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The day is also known as “Chinese Valentine’s Day”, as single people may take the celebration as an opportunity to meet others, and couples may have a romantic date in the festive atmosphere.
While we are on the instructions, I would like to point out a mistake spotted by my colleague TobyMac. In step 113 of the second booklet, there is an inconsistency with the placement of the Chun Lian banners. For all the non-Chinese builders, the two auspicious phrases chosen here are very generic and there is no specific order to them, so it doesn’t really matter.
The design of Chinese gardens often emphasizes the walking experience, so I have decided to examine the details of this set in the style of a tour through the garden.
There are two entrances/exits in this garden, both are constructed in the same style. These circular openings are called moon gates (月洞門), and they are commonly used as entrances to traditional Chinese compounds, or serve as a transition on the dividing walls between different sections of a garden and between different rooms in larger buildings.
At this entrance, visitors are greeted by a minifigure-shaped lantern and a pair of traditional Chun Lian banners. For readers who have missed our preview article, here are the translations:
- Lantern Torso (6337673 | 76382): “Celebrate the Spring Lantern Festival on 15th day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar” (正月十五鬧元宵 – yes, all that in 7 Chinese characters)
- Left Banner (6331372 | 63864): “Decorated with Lanterns and Streamers” (張燈結彩, an expression to describe “festivity” in Chinese)
- Right Banner (6331373 | 63864): “Felicity for Your Whole Family” (闔家歡樂)
Apart from allowing access, moon gates often act as a framing device in a successful Chinese garden design. They draw viewers’ attention to the scenery on the other side of the wall and present it as a nicely-composited painting. The second moon gate shown in the picture above has performed this quality respectably well in my opinion, given the limited size of the overall model.
I am not 100% sure about this, but I suspect the roofs above the moon
gates are not entirely “realistic”, as it seems to be a mix of two
different roof styles: the top looks like an attempt to represent the
typical hip roof, but on the two sides, there are also 2 slanted black
ingot pieces suggesting the roof is curved along the circular opening.
Personally, I have only seen ones where the roof consistently flows
along the circular arch, or broken up at the opening and has a separate
roof on top.
That said, as a LEGO model, I think the design looks nice enough and I appreciate the use of the Black Dragon Head Hilt (6315915 | 36017) here.
Walking through the moon gate, visitors have to go down a short pathway decorated by rows of lanterns on the two sides. Here you can find some of the Transparent Red/Trans-Red Minifigure Heads (6331377 | 28621) as lanterns with the exclusive double-sided ox decoration. There are 11 of them in the set and I particularly like how the ox is drawn in the style of a LEGO moulded animal, with the 1 x 2 brick inserted in the middle.
The earliest Chinese pavilions date back to the Zhou dynasty (1046 - 256 BCE), but they weren’t always for recreational purposes. In ancient China, pavilions started out as military watchtowers and municipal buildings; they slowly developed into a key element of Chinese gardens when the rich began to adopt this building type into their personal gardens during the Sui (581 - 618) and Tang (618 - 907) dynasties.
Pavilions are often the most intricate elements of a Chinese garden, and it remains true in the LEGO World. I don’t think any of the photographs here have done this gorgeous build justice, it is one of those models that have to be witnessed in person. Like real pavilions, minifigures can take a rest and enjoy the scenery - or enjoy the sight of the moon, as suggested by the pavilion’s name, “The Moon Watching Pavilion” (望月亭). Again, kudos to the designer who paid attention to how ancient Chinese is often written from right to left.
The construction of the pavilion is extremely satisfying from top to bottom, particularly in the roof. As I have observed in the preview article, Technic Rotor, 3 Blades in Light Bluish Grey (6307999 | 51138) are used to create the hexagonal structure, but the way the rest of the roof is connected to this hexagonal frame is just fascinating.
A connection point at the center is established with the combination of Technic Axle and Pin Connector Triple (10288), 3L Bars (17715) and 1L Bars with Clip (48729). The way the 1 x 4 x 2 Fences in Dark Red (6295360 | 3185) are flipped upside down and fit perfectly between the gaps are also incredibly satisfying.
The way the 6 roof panels are installed aren’t anything groundbreaking, as most of the roofs in the Chinese festival sets are constructed with the Rectangular Minifig Shields (30166). However, the way they fit around the hexagon and fixed to the correct angle is just elegant. The whole structure is constructed so cleanly, not a single piece seems redundant.
The ridges are constructed from the precious Bar Holder with Clip (tbc | 11090), Candle (6337523 | 37762) and Banana (6337522 | 33085) in Earth Blue/Dark Blue, and then connected to the Small Technic Steering Wheel with 3-Stud Diameter (4580509 | 2819). For readers who haven’t made such a connection before, the bar around the steering wheel isn’t precisely the same thickness of a normal bar due to its tight radius, and hence the clips hold on to it very loosely (but securely). Speaking of which, the recently released 10274 ECTO-1 has introduced a brand new Steering Wheel with 4 Studs on Center (67811), which is designed to have a proper bar connection. I am personally quite excited to get my hands on that and explore the possibilities it brings to the world of LEGO geometries.
Plants are essential to a Chinese garden, not only do they add to the scenery, they often embody symbolic meanings. Next to the pavilion, you can find some eye catching bamboo. Bamboo is known as one of the "Three Friends of Winter" for its evergreen nature, along with the plum and the pine. On the other hand, it is also a member of the "Four Gentlemen" in Chinese culture, together with the plum, the orchid and the chrysanthemum. It represents the quality of uprightness, tenacity, and modesty.
One of the most famous poets in Chinese history, Bai Juyi (白居易, 772 - 846) suggested that a gentleman should be “hollow-hearted” like the bamboos, be humble and open-minded. Although this quality may not be replicated here considering the structural integrity of the model, the small towball connection at the base of the 2 taller bamboos shows perfectly how bamboos wave along the wind without breaking. As Bai explained, a gentleman shall be perseverant and strong mentally, not necessarily strong physically. Of course, It is also possible that the designers chose this connection simply to add some variety, which works out perfectly as well.
Water is also a key element of Chinese gardens and it is common for them to have a pond or even a lake in larger gardens. The water lilies, a symbol of grace and purity, are created with the brilliant combination of the Minifig Crown in White (6259700 | 39262) and the Transparent Bright Orange/ Trans-Orange Light Cover (6171764 | 58176). The idea of using the crown piece as flower has been seen previously in some Friends set and the beautiful Ideas 21318 Tree House, but that doesn’t make it any less fitting here.
Koi fish is among the most popular auspicious creatures in Chinese culture, thanks to its powerful life force and ability to swim against the current. It is also noteworthy that its Chinese name, 鯉, sounds very similar to Luck (利) in Chinese.
The gorgeous printed Transparent Light Blue/ Trans-Light Blue 1 x 2 tile comes in 2 versions:
- White and Red Kohaku Koi Fish swimming to its right (6331375 | 35386), symbolizing career success
- Gold Yamabuki Koi Fish swimming to its left (6331374 | 35386) symbolizing wealth
Different types of bridge are chosen depending on the context they are set in. The single arch bridge used here is one of the typical styles you would find in a Chinese garden, as it fits the exquisite nature of a garden. In reality, the half-circle arch should be joined by its reflection on the peaceful water, but obviously it does not apply to the LEGO world. I would also like to point out that the bridge feels slightly out of scale compared to the rest of the garden here, but given that it is just a toy model, I think it is totally excusable.
A bit of 'Brick Maths' here for readers who are interested: the bridge floats across two Turntables 4 x 4 Square Base (3403). It forms a perfect right-angled triangle with the grid, with a length of 10 studs from center to center. From the above photo, you can also have a glimpse of how the depth of water is shown with the wedge plates beneath the 1 x 2 Trans-Light Blue tiles, a technique used back in 70620 Ninjago City and 70657 Ninjago City Docks.
The large-scale ox lantern is more of a feature from the Spring Lantern Festival Celebration than one of a traditional Chinese garden. Usually there would be more than one of these large-scale lanterns scattered around the garden/park, and they are gorgeous to look at in real life. The decorations on the side (6331369 | 3065) and the eyes (6331379 | 11477) are all printed. At the back, you can see 2 other printed Red 2 x 2 tiles (6331378 | 3068), saying “Celebrate the Spring Lantern Festival” (鬧元宵).
Realistically speaking, the lantern should be built entirely out of transparent bricks, but I think the designers have made a perfect balance between the use of transparent and solid red. The light brick activated from the back brings the lantern to life, and I think the red light it shines on the surroundings really capture the atmosphere of a lantern festival.
On the other side of the pathway, there is a small empty space where our minifigures can access. I am not entirely sure what kind of tree is being represented here, but I find it interesting how it carried on the design of the plum trees from this year’s 80105 Chinese New Year Temple Fair, and the touch of colour it adds to the model is very pleasant.
The fun hasn’t ended yet as you exit the garden. One of the most iconic activities of the festival, as illustrated in the drawing I showed in the beginning, is guessing lantern riddles with your friends and family. This is nicely replicated with the exclusive vinyl sheets.
In reality, the riddles are written on much smaller papers that are hung from the bottom of lanterns, and usually you would have the riddle on one side and the answer on the other. That probably wouldn’t work as well in the minifigure world. I really appreciate the alternative set up the designers came up with, so that we builders can actually play a game of lantern riddles here.
For our readers who can’t read Chinese, here are the translated riddles (from left to right):
Riddle: White Sugar Plums (白糖梅子)
Answer: Yuan Xiao, Glutinous Rice Balls (元宵)
Riddle: Sometimes Round, Sometimes Crescent (有時圓有時彎)
Answer: The Moon (月亮)
Riddle: Crescent Horns, Eating Grass (月牙角吃青草)
Answer: Ox (牛)
These are not as tricky nor witty as most lantern riddles I have encountered, but I think they are good enough to give builders a taste of the tradition. A suggestion I have would be to include multilingual translations for similar features in the future, so that more people can understand what they are putting up.
As mentioned in the preview article, the whole garden is built in 2 modules, one on a 16 x 32 baseplate and the other on a 32 x 32 baseplate. This allows the garden to be rearranged as shown in the picture. However, I personally prefer the original layout as this one breaks the continuous pathway and makes less sense as a walking experience. That said, perhaps what most LEGO fans would do with this feature is to incorporate the garden into their Modular street setup. Unfortunately, I don’t have any completed modular buildings around me at the moment to see how they look together.
Last but not least, there are some interesting accessories in this set too. I wasn’t aware at first, but according to the official description, the drink held by the boy here is supposed to be the popular Asian drink bubble tea. Again, I really like the use of the Transparent/ Trans-Clear Bar, Angled with Stud on End (6285587 | 65578) as the straw here.
I also appreciate how they attached 2 small lanterns to the classic modular street lamp with the Back Minifig Handlebars with Angular Handles (6078610 | 98397). It is very simple, yet it adds a lot of character to the street lamps.
Two other wonderful printed accessories included are the Rabbit Lantern (6331386 | 33026) and the 1 x 1 Round Tile with Tang Yuan Rice Ball Print (6331381 | 98138). A bit of a surprise here is that the White Minifig Bowl (6198979 | 34172) is actually extremely rare, so far it has only shown up in the exclusive polybag 40394 LEGO House Chef this year. This has nothing to do with the design of this set, but I find the lack of stud in the bowl a bit annoying, as the Tang Yuan piece keeps falling out when I move the model around. I understand it might be very difficult to retrieve the 1x1 round tile with a stud, but perhaps a hollow stud would work?
One last piece of extra information regarding this traditional dessert, Tang Yuan, which sounds just like “Reunion” (團圓) in Chinese. Some of you may notice, one of the riddle answers, Yuan Xiao(元宵) is also a dish of Glutinous Rice Balls, are these the same? They may look similar but they are very different in texture and tasting. For Yuan Xiao, it is made by rolling a solid sweet filling in a basket of dry glutinous rice flour, and served in a thick broth. For Tang Yuan, sweet or salty stuffing is wrapped inside glutinous rice wrapper like dumplings, and served in a thinner soup. Traditionally speaking, Yuan Xiao should be served during the Spring Lantern Festival, while Tang Yuan should be served during the Winter Solstice instead. That said, growing up in Hong Kong, my family always eat Tang Yuan regardless of the festivals.
This is easily one of my favourite LEGO sets ever. It has an amazing selection of new and rare recolours and printed elements, and the final model is just gorgeous to look at. The building experience was really enjoyable through and through, even though it may not be very complex, there are intriguing details to keep you engaged from bag to bag. The pavilion, particularly the roof, was like a perfect dessert to a perfect meal, with its intricate design. I don’t think there is anything more I can ask for, especially given that it is an 8+ set.
Some of you may wonder: how accurate are these sets as a representation of the Chinese culture? I would describe them as “respectful” and “respectable”. They may not be 100% accurate, but I think it is important to bear in mind that these are meant to be toys and not educational models. The decision to explore the more specific topics of Nian and Spring Lantern Festival instead of giving us some generic Chinese buildings this year shows the heart and effort the design team put into these sets. I really hope this theme will be continued in the future, and I cannot wait to see what the designers can bring us next.
Massive thanks go to our 'Vibrant Coral' patrons: Jorgito Mozo, Mevits Bricks, Font Review Journal, Baixo LMmodels, Andy Price, Anthony Wright, Chris Cook, London AFOLs, Gerald Lasser, Big B Bricks, Dave Schefcik, David and Breda Fennell, Huw Millington, Neil Crosby, Antonio Serra, Beyond the Brick, Sue Ann Barber & Trevor Clark, and Kevin Gascoigne. Vale Iain Adams, a great supporter of New Elementary.
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