Traditional art, modern incentives

By Zhao Ruixue| (China Daily)| Updated : 2022-11-08

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Ancient culture is being used to strengthen contemporary identity and promote growth, Zhao Ruixue reports in Jining, Shandong province.

Shandong province, where the Yellow River flows into the Bohai Sea, is exploring innovative ways to inherit time-honored cultural handicrafts, passed down through generations, and utilize ancient techniques to enrich people's cultural lives - not to mention their pockets.

At Nishan town in Shandong's Jining city, the birthplace of Confucius, more than 600 fine handicrafts were on show at an exhibition held during the 2022 China International Confucius Cultural Festival and the eighth Nishan Forum on World Civilizations at the end of September. The events celebrated the country's craftsmanship traditions through collaborations between traditional and modern designers and artists.

With mortise and tenon, Hao Liyan from Tengzhou, a county-level city of Shandong, built several works on site, ranging from animals to architecture.

In use for more than 7,000 years, mortise and tenon is one of the oldest construction methods in the world. Instead of using nails, it relies on interlocking joints to connect pieces of wood together.

"Mortise and tenon building blocks bring traditional craftsmanship back into our lives. That's the value of inheriting our Chinese traditional culture," says Hao.

He adds that his mortise and tenon building blocks have performed well on the market.

"Our production capacity can't meet the growing market demand. Not only children but also elderly people like our Chinese building blocks," Hao says.

At Longwanhu Art Town, which neighbors Nishan town, the Luban lock has become a popular study project, attracting many students to try disassembling and assembling the ancient Chinese puzzle.

The lock is produced through an intricate technique where countless small wooden pieces are crafted to interlock without the use of nails.

It is named after its alleged inventor Lu Ban (507-444 BC), a famous scientist and artisan who is credited in ancient texts with dreaming up a variety of wondrous mechanisms, from mills and grappling hooks to flying bamboo magpies.

"The Luban lock is an educational toy which not only trains the brain but also lets children experience ancient wisdom," says Jiang Leping, a woodwork teacher working at Longwanhu's Luban lock project.

"Many children show great interest in the lock. They will keep working on it until they figure out the way to disassemble and assemble it," Jiang adds.

The Shandong government has been carrying out measures to further encourage the development of the province's intangible cultural heritage.

The measures cover 10 sectors, and focus on a variety of aspects, such as handicraft standards, design, development, brand building, marketing and policy support.

The province has organized exhibitions and promotions to provide increased exposure for its handicrafts industry.

In addition, selected handicrafts are on show at scenic areas and tourism-focused communities and rural areas, according to the Shandong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism.

Designers and artists have combined modern innovation with traditional handicrafts to create new products.

At the exhibition held during the Confucius cultural festival, several artists created Confuciusthemed handicrafts to pay their respects to the great Chinese philosopher.

Li Yinfeng, from Weifang city in Shandong, displayed at the exhibition an image of Confucius done using Lu embroidery.

Lu embroidery is the general name for embroidery produced in Shandong province, and has been marked out by the government as national-level intangible cultural heritage. It has a history of more than 2,000 years.

As a typical representative of local culture in Shandong, Lu embroidery is one of the eight famous embroidery in China.

"I spent two years embroidering the sage and used human hair to embroider his eyebrows, hair and beard," says Li.

To make Confucius' face vivid, Li embroidered seven layers, each using different techniques and thread colors.

She started learning embroidery from her grandmother and mother when she was 6, and has been refining the technique for over three decades.

Li has also been integrating modern design concepts and innovative stitching with traditional craftsmanship in her customized work.

"Our customized Chinese traditional costumes bear embroidery made according to clients' characteristics, such as their personality and body shape, and are well-received by the market," says Li.

At another stall, Li Jinbo, an inheritor of Gaomi county's unique paper-cutting techniques — also recognized by the government as intangible cultural heritage — spent eight hours cutting out a bust of Confucius.

"The most difficult part is cutting the thick beard. I can't make any tears while cutting it," he says.

The paper-cutter uses a special method to attach the delicate paper images to fans and screens, purchased by festivalgoers as souvenirs.

"Our traditional culture can be better cherished and promoted when we bring it into our daily lives," the craftsman says, adding that he is developing more ways to promote paper-cutting techniques, including offering free classes in schools.

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With mortise and tenon, Hao Liyan builds a structure at the China International Confucius Cultural Festival held at Nishan town in Jining, Shandong province. CHINA DAILY


Paper artist Li Jinbo crafts a delicate design. CHINA DAILY


Li Yinfeng displays an image of Confucius at the exhibition using Lu embroidery. CHINA DAILY