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Traditional crafts shape future

Revival of time-honored skills boosts village income and tourist flow, Yang Feiyue and Zhang Yu report.

By Yang Feiyue and Zhang Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-07 10:12

Many villagers have become inheritors and practitioners of local crafts.[Photo by Fu Ruiqi/For China Daily]

Everything is glimpsed through the prism of history when one sets foot in Nanhan village. An antique tablet first greets one's eye at the entrance to the village that is a 30-minute drive from downtown Langfang, North China's Hebei province.

As one explores the village further, rows of ancient buildings, walls, carved doorways, and wooden and stone pagodas of similar styles spring into view.

They all emanate a strong vibe of traditional culture and crafts and bring people back in time.

Zhou Hongjun created a beguiling piece of work at his workshop in the village in early December.

Delicate items ranging from jewelry boxes and ornaments to decorative screens made of red sandalwood took up most space in his work studio.

Zhou has benefited from the village's support for traditional craft preservation and development over the years.

He entered the Nanhan jade-grinding plant in 1982 and got to hone his skills of the craft under the tutelage of Zhou Qingyuan, a master artisan from the Beijing Gold Lacquer Inlaid Co, who was invited by the village authorities.

"He was very strict with me, and I learned all the techniques under his tutorship," Zhou Hongjun says.

The 57-year-old has worked his way up to be a provincial inheritor of the hundred-treasure inlay craftsmanship that originated in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and features gems, ivory, coral, jade and other precious materials being selectively embedded to highlight a specific theme and enhance decorative effect.

The lacquerware of hundred-treasure inlays includes folding screens, table plaques and benches. The change of the angles of the rebounding light casts various shades of luster on the patterns of hundred-treasure inlays, conjuring up a rainbow of colors and displaying an air of nobility and magnificence.

The inlay technique requires complex steps and was on the verge of disappearing as few people had the required skills.

"I was encouraged to commit myself to the craft when it was named a provincial intangible cultural heritage in 2017," Zhou Hongjun says.

He has given all his energy to the inheritance and preservation of the craft in recent years. He has so far produced and repaired more than 1,500 inlaid artworks.

The technique has been widely applied to Chinese classical furniture and products of arts and crafts by intangible cultural heritage inheritors, including Zhou Hongjun, who are engaging in classic art creations in Nanhan village.

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