It is said that climbing ladder of knives and jumping into blazing fire are traditional ceremonies to honor a Han hero to whom the Lisu people feel indebted. Dispatched by the court, Wang Ji, the minister of War in the Ming Dynasty, led military forces to border areas in Yunnan Province where Lisu people inhabited. Together with the cooperation of the local residents, Wang Ji directed his troops to quiet down the traitors, resume lost territory and expel the invaders. To improve the welfares of the people and enhance military strength in the border areas, he led Lisu young men to practice martial arts. Later, the Emperor lent a ready ear to slanders and poisoned Wang Ji to death. Lisu people set Wang Ji’s death day as their traditional festival, Knife Ladder Climbing Festival, on which they climb knife ladder and jump into blazing fire.
Jumping into blazing fire, which simply means bathing in fire, is often performed on the seventh day of the second month in lunar calendar. It is said that washing off dirty can ensure their safety in knife ladder climbing. In the evening, dressed in colorful ethnic costumes, every Lisu people sings and dances jubilantly around fire. When firewood aflames, seven or eight skillful barefoot Lisu men drink several bowls of wine and step into the burning charcoal. Without the least timidity, they jump about in the fire and take the iron chains which have been burnt to red with their hands.
Knife ladder climbing is an equally grand ceremony. After sharpening their knives, the Lisu young men bind thirty-six or seventy-two knives to two twenty-meter wooden poles which are set upright. At the noon, a gun shot signals the beginning of the ceremony. Dressed in ethnic costumes, several Lisu men approach the ladder. After worshipping their ancestors, they grasp the blade points with their hands and climb up the blades barefootedly. With great composure, they climb up the ladder as easily as walking on earth. Their skillful performance and undaunted spirit win thunderous cheer and applause from the audience.