Young Chinese culture promoter presents traditional handicrafts to Oxford Uni and Milan Fashion Week
Culture promoter presents handicrafts to Oxford Uni, Milan Fashion Week
Published: Apr 30, 2022 06:39 PM

Photo: Yan Hong

Photo: Yan Hong

Editor's Note: 

China's first white paper published recently on its youth describes its young generation as confident, aspirant and responsible. According to the document, Chinese youth possess a global vision and stand at the forefront of the times bursting with commitment: pursuing lofty ideals with a firm belief in socialism with Chinese characteristics.Young people are also described in the paper as full of patriotism, displaying the sterling quality of living up to responsibilities and striving to be contributors to the country's development.Wednesday marks the national Youth Day, which falls on May 4 to honor the patriotic youth movement - the 1919 May Fourth Movement that began 103 years ago. On this special occasion which also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China, the Global Times presents a series of stories about four prominent figures of the young generation, who were nourished in great times with ample opportunities and have been sparing no efforts in promoting Guochao, also known as Chinese trends or "China chic", to the international stage. Looking ahead to the new era, their stories fully showcase that youth is the most active and vital force in society and the hopes of a country and the future of a nation lie in their hands. 

This is the third part of the series in which we would like to introduce one young traditional handicrafts designer. The first and second stories are a young director who impressed the world with amazing ancient dances and a young designer aims to show pride, passion Chinas homemade aircraft carrier Shandong brings.

Photo: Yan Hong

Photo: Yan Hong

Chasing dreams

Yan Hong (originally named He Yanhong but widely famous as Yan Hong on the internet), a 33-year-old traditional handicrafts designer from Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, never expected that the traditional Chinese handicrafts she made could become a hit overseas, and could give her an opportunity to introduce Chinese culture at the prestigious Oxford University, and cooperate with a foreign designer at fashion heaven -- Milan Fashion Week.

Yan Hong used to work as a nurse in a hospital. After witnessing too much life and death, she decided to resign. She wanted to do something she liked. At that time, only her husband supported her.

"It's a hard decision to give up the stead work, and totally dedicated into my interest which might not be able to feed myself," she told the Global Times.

Working for one's dream requires double the effort. Yan Hong's daily work routine stretched from 9am until 1am or even later. But she never regrets pursuing her dream.

Yan Hong is good at using recycled material including abandoned copper sheet and cans to imitate craft ornaments recorded in some ancient Chinese costume dramas, TV shows and antique historical books.

Because of frequent handling of metal materials and sharp tools, Yan Hong's fingers are often covered in small cuts. Band-Aids are her must-haves, while the pretty manicures that women love are not of interest to her.

In recent years, with the debut of more high-quality cultural TV shows, pursuing Guochao, also known as Chinese trends or "China chic," which expresses the rise of China's native fashion trends, has stirred a wave across the nation especially among Generation Z. A large number of video bloggers like Yan Hong bring traditional Chinese culture such as Hanfu, ancient makeup and musical instruments to a wider audience.

According to Yan Hong, she once restored the ornaments that drew inspiration from the Peking Opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, the glorious bronze tree unearthed from the famed Sanxingdui Ruins site, and the hairpin from a well-known painting Court Ladies Adorned by Floral Ornament from Tang Dynasty (618-907).

One of her sought-after video series is her work made based on the record of Shanhaijing, also known as Classic of Mountains and Seas, a Chinese classic text and a compilation of mythic geography and beasts.

"I noticed that many images from the TV dramas are from Shanhaijing. I thought that it would be very interesting to put the elements of divine beasts into my creation," she said.

Photo: Yan Hong

Photo: Yan Hong

Amazing the world

These hand-made and highly restored headdresses in major costume dramas have made Yan Hong one of the most popular bloggers at Bilibili, one of China's leading video-sharing platforms, with 760,000 fans and more than 33.74 million views. 

Meanwhile, she synchronously posts the videos on her YouTube account subtitled with both Chinese and English, which quickly garnered a lot of attention among a foreign audience. Some of them even follow the video guide she posted and try to make traditional Chinese headdresses themselves.

Yan Hong said she has received a lot of positive feedback from her fans both in China and aboard, and she was touched by some fans overseas that would translate the message from their mother tongue into Chinese and communicate with her.

"I found many of my followers are professional handicrafts designers or scholars in history, that made me feel a bit of stressful when making the video," she joked.

Due to her popularity on social media, Yan Hong was invited to give a speech at Oxford University in the UK in 2019.

Yan Hong recalled when she showed a handmade headdress imitated from a hit Chinese drama Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace, all the audience were stunned as they don't believe this artistic headdress is only made of copper sheet and feather.

"It is a great honor for me to introduce the traditional Chinese handicrafts at such a world top educational institution." But she did not think this opportunity is mainly due to her superb craftsmanship, but thanks for her "mother country's big influence in the world."

"I think more people from other countries started to be interest in Chinese culture as our country is becoming stronger. I feel very grateful to live in such a good era and could have a platform to show our traditional culture to the world," she said.

A sense of mission

Returning from the UK, Yan Hong realized that she is not only a designer, but also a disseminator of Chinese culture. She felt she has a sense of mission in inheriting Chinese culture.

After visiting the valuable culture relics displayed in museums, Yan Hong decided to learn filamentary silver hovering arts of Chengdu, a national intangible cultural heritage which dates back to 1,700 years ago. In the process of getting to know this heritage, Yan Hong said she gained a deeper understanding of the word "inheritance."

The craftsmanship infused with traditional culture never fades. A designer who would participate in the Spring/Summer 2021 Milan Fashion Week sought cooperation with her after watching her videos.

After several online communications, Yan Hong spent 20 days finishing the 11 pieces that matched the clothes designed by the foreign designer. The works contain a lot of local traditional folk culture and local unique fabric materials, and have been favored by some well-known fashion magazines including the Harper's Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire.

"Chinese culture is profound. As a young designer, I have the duty to continue introducing it to more people in the world."

In the future, Yan Hong said she would post a video inspired by Hua Mulan, a Chinese legendary folk heroine, to pay tribute to the young volunteers who are selflessly dedicated in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic across the country. 

A model with the headdress designed by Yan Hong  Photo: Courtesy of Yan Hong

A model with the headdress designed by Yan Hong Photo: Courtesy of Yan Hong