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8 fast vanishing folk arts in China

          Kingfisher Feather art 

Kingfisher feather art is an ancient form of ornament that involves the inlay of these rare iridescent feathers on gold or gilded metal. Common designs involve flowers, birds, fish, insects, portraits and landscape themes, as well as patterns considered auspicious in Chinese culture.

The craft gained popularity during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, reaching its peak during the Qianlong period (1735-96). Kingfisher pieces were at first only available to royalty, but later gained widespread popularity, attracting attention of foreign merchants in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China. However, the style fell out of favor and was later replaced by Chinese cloisonné. The last workshop producing kingfisher feather art closed in 1933. 

Feather selection is key, as only 28 feathers from one kingfisher are usable – 20 wing feathers and eight from the tail. This, coupled with high demand and overhunting, pushed kingfishers in Southeast Asia to the brink of extinction. 

Source: Xinhua Daily – Globaltimes.cn

          Miao Silverwork 

Explore folk tradition of Miao silverwork
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Miao silver ornaments - a reflection of tradition
Silver Ornaments of the Miao Ethnic Group


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Miao Ethnic Sisters Festival celebrated in SW China

The refined silverwork-making tradition of the Miao people dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Miao silverwork craftsmanship, which is inscribed on the country's intangible cultural heritage list, is regarded as the epitome of the Miao folk culture and history.

Silver represents good luck in Miao culture, and children wear ornaments made from the metal, such as necklaces, from birth. Women wear the headgear during festivals.

The tradition of creating silver accessories was born when the Miao needed to bring their silver with them as they migrated across the country as war refugees in ancient times. They discovered wearing the precious metal to be an efficient way to transport it.

56-year-old Wu Qiubiao is one of the few existing Miao silversmiths living in the Fenghuang county in Central China's Hunan Province. Wu joined the business when he was only 13. He says traditionally all the silver accessories to complete a Miao woman's dress must be handmade. And there are as many as ten parts like head wear, necklace, pendant, bracelet and waistband.

It's never easy to create a silver piece. Firstly, a silver nugget needs to be melted, before undergoing hammering, forging and molding. Then comes the most difficult part which really tests a silversmith's skills - the carving.

Wu adds that nearly all the patterns carved on Miao silverwork are a token of auspiciousness. And that's why the silver accessories are a necessity for Miao women on festive occasions.

Unfortunately, there are few skilled silversmiths working today.

Source: english.chinese.cn – cntv.cn

          Chinese Wax Printing 

Dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771BC), this traditional method of using wax to dye intricate patters on cloth traces its roots to the Miao ethnic minority settlements of Guizhou Province in Southwest China. 
Images are first painted in wax on natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and silk, which is then immersed in a vat of indigo. The wax is later removed, revealing the intended images, preserved in great detail. Miao wax prints are renowned for their diverse and complex patterns, which often draw inspiration from folk tales and nature. 

Miao tradition dictates that all women must learn the skill of wax printing from their mothers at an early age.  

Source: cri.cn

          Tie-Dye Techniques 

A traditional folk art of China’s Bai ethnic minority in Southwest China, this tie-dye technique was listed among the state-level intangible cultural heritages in 2006. 

Woad leaves are first fermented in a pit, drawing out their indigo hues. This is then used to dye white cotton cloth or a blended fabric of cotton and flax, tied in strategic knots. After the cloth has been dried and rinsed, designs of bees, butterflies, plum blossoms, fish, or insects are revealed with an artistic effect that cannot be achieved by painting. 

More than 1,500 years old, the method is still in use today. However, the hand-crafted art is in danger of disappearing due to the numerous textile factories in China that can imitate the effect.  

Source: Xinhua- womenofchina.cn

         Lusheng(reed instrument) 

Lusheng is a traditional musical instrument enjoyed by southwestern China’s ethnic groups such as the Dong and Miao, the latter of which is celebrated for their craftsmanship – it was listed among the state-level intangible cultural heritages in 2006.

Lushengs are commonly made from bamboo, bark and copper. “From harvesting the bamboo in the mountains to hearing a Lusheng played, a craftsman needs to go work through 60 different processes to complete one instrument. The hardest work is polishing the bamboo, and reed making is key,” according to master craftsman Mo Yanxue. Individual tools required to build a Lusheng can total more than 200.

Famous Lusheng producers include; Daguan county, Yunnan Province; Kaili, Guizhou Province; Leishan, Guizhou Province.

Source: Agencies – Globaltimes.cn

        Traditional Popcorn        Popping Machine 

Old-school Chinese popcorn machine baffles MythBusters but leaves netizens amused

Traditional popcorn popping machine a hit in US

To make popcorn, people used to heat corn or other grains in a hand-operated, coal-fired popper. The operator uses bellows and a crank to agitate to grains inside until - “bang” - a puff of white smoke rises into the air and the devices produces hot popcorn. 

To many Chinese, especially those born after 1980, this is one of their most endearing childhood memories. Street vendors making popcorn using this method during the cold winter months were still numerous towards the end of the 20th century. Many Weibo users say that the tastiest popcorn can only be made with old, cast iron poppers, and that modern machines cannot reproduce the “taste of their childhood.”

Source:  Beijingtoday.com 

          Shaaxi "Hollow Noodles" 

Source: English.CNTV.cn

          Sugar-figure Blowing

Sugar-figure blowing is a traditional folk art of China. It has a long history but is gradually disappearing.

Also known as “sugar opera,” this folk art began during the Tang dynasty (618-907) and prospered during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The art of sugar-figure blowing involves shaping malt sugar with scissors, small combs, knives, bamboo strips, springs and other auxiliary materials to create different figures.

Folk sugar-figure blowers first heat up the sugar and then pull and knead it into a ball. With their index finger, they press a deep hole in the ball and remove it immediately, creating thin strands of sugar. The sugar strands are then collected and are blown into shapes. From there they use different techniques to further shape and paint their creations.

With proper care, a blown-sugar sculpture can last for weeks. However, it degrades quickly when exposed to water or humidity.

Source: Cultural-china.com

The Sugar-figure Blowing art - watchable yet inedible
How to Make Blown-Sugar Art


Traditional popcorn popping machine a hit in US

Shen Hao, a deputy curator of the Nanjing Folklore Museum, said it will be a sad day when people will only know these old trades from history books.

Shen said the main reason traditional crafts are vanishing is because the markets they occupied are dying. Also, young people don’t have patience to learn traditional crafts and often see such work as beneath them.

The lack of government support is another burden. Only a handful of crafts are scheduled for protection under the National Intangible Heritage Act.

Fu Qiping, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, encouraged some old businesses to reinvent themselves as traveling products. He suggested the government begin compiling notes, pictures and videos about vanishing industries.

Fu also said the government should give subsidies to craftsmen and open classes to help young people learn and pass on the crafts.