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Villages in Dali: Home of silversmiths

Updated: 2012-04-16 18:30
By Christie Lee (chinadaily.com.cn)

I was greeted with the three cups of tea at the entrance of Xinhua village in Dali prefecture. It is a tradition of the Bai ethnic group to welcome distinguished guests. The first cup was bitter, the second sweet; the last one tasted complicated but was said to help recollect the flavor of the first two.

The architecture and people in Xinhua village looked no different than those in other Bai habitations. That was until I noticed the words on lanterns hanging from the ceiling of a corridor, which read, "A thousand years of hammering". But what exactly do they hammer?

The answer is silver. And indeed, the history of making silverware and copperware in Xinhua village dates back to the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago. Villagers inherited the craftsmanship from their parents, their parents' parents; nearly every residence is a factory or workshop.

I visited a workshop where people were making a set of drinking vessels, which include a plate, a wine pot and eight goblets. One set takes several days to make; engraving just one plate takes more than two hours.

"I only engrave the patterns on the plate," said a craftsman, "The guy over there makes the plate. We have more than ten people here, each in charge of a different job."

School had just ended as I was preparing to leave the village. And these kids, I thought, are the future of Xinhua village's silver industry. But will they leave for big cities like many others when they grow up? Can we count on them to pass on their ancestor's skills and become the next generation of silverware masters?

Also see:


Villages in Dali: Deep in the mountains

Villages in Dali: Home of silversmiths

Video: Christie Lee

Producer: Flora Yue