Supple but strong, Linyi's willows bring work and wealth

(China Daily)| Updated : 2022-06-07

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Wickerwork has been a tradition in mountainous area for almost 1,500 years

In a memorial hall commemorating the heroic mothers of Yimeng, the women who voluntarily cared for soldiers and their children in this mountainous part of Shandong province during the liberation struggles of the 1930s and 40s, an old wicker basket occupies a place of pride.

Its handles are smooth and shiny from long use carrying supplies for the soldiers. It is a reminder to visitors of the Yimeng Spirit, characterized by the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people fighting for a better life together, combined with hard work, self-improvement, selflessness and dedication cultivated during the war.

Since then, this same spirit has inspired generations and continues to shine through today, including in efforts to create a better life.

In Linyi city's Linshu county, wickerwork has been turned into a way to make a living.

Yang Jinbang, a resident of Yangshabu village, has been involved in the trade for over four decades. Most of the furniture in his home, including chairs, cases and desks, is made of willow or rattan.

"Wickerwork is a major source of income, and most people in our village can make good quality products," the 68-year-old said.


Craftspeople make wickerwork in a workshop in Linshu county, Linyi, Shandong province. [Photo/China Daily]

People in Linshu have been using willow to make containers for grain and carry food for over 1,400 years, according to historical records.

"The willow that grows around our village is tough and pliable, and has good coloring. It's perfect for wickerwork," Yang said.

Yang began learning to work with willow from his parents when he was 7, and by the time he was 13, he could already make good quality baskets.

"A lot of villagers use willow to make baskets and furniture and then sell them at the market," Yang said.

Wickerwork was placed on a fast development track during reform and opening-up in the 1970s.


Visitors enjoy flowers in a park in Xintai, a county-level city that was part of the Yimeng Mountains Revolutionary Base. [Photo/China Daily]

Over the years, the county government has released a series of policies to promote the development of wickerwork, including help with brand-building, marketing and promotion.

An annual county competition is also held to promote exchange and improve wickerwork skills.

Linshu wickerwork was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage last year.

Seven of the nine towns in the county are working on developing the trade, according to the local government, and some 390 wickerwork companies currently provide work for thousands of farmers.

Over 2 billion yuan ($294 million) worth of Linshu wickerwork was exported last year, a year-on-year increase of 41.2 percent.

"It has become a basic way for people in the county to make a living. Both young and old are able to make very good wickerwork," said Zhang Zhiquan, general manager of Linyi O. lvy Company, which is based in the county.

The company works all the way along the wicker chain, from planting willows to production and foreign trade and employs 8,000 farmers.


A panoramic view of the Yimeng Mountains. [Photo/China Daily]

Linshu has developed hundreds of willow items, including products woven with cloth and wood, to keep up with changing demands.

The county has also been encouraging young people to expand the market by developing e-commerce and cross-border e-commerce, as Linyi has a well developed transportation network.

Close to the Beijing-Shanghai Expressway, the city has become a major hub connecting northern and southern China and now has 31 logistics centers.

"As a result, we're now able to send our products to more families," Zhang said.