Hangzhou helps craftsmen cultivate successors for intangible cultural heritages
Hangzhou has always placed great emphasis on preserving and passing on crafts and folk arts. The Zhejiang Province capital was the first in China to be named a UNESCO Crafts and Folk Arts City. During the past 10 years, the city government has provided financial aid and social security to help craftsmen cultivate successors.
Last week, the government announced the first batch of seven districts and counties that are designated as pilots in achieving common prosperity through developing intangible cultural heritages.
Since the Chinese government issued a guideline in 2021 to build Zhejiang into a demonstration zone for common prosperity, Hangzhou, as the provincial capital, drafted the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for high-quality development to achieve that goal.
The city is narrowing the gap between urban and rural areas in the long term. One of the measures is taking advantage of intangible cultural heritages to develop the economy while also preserving craftsmanship.
In recent years, some crafts have become wanghong (Internet celebrity) in social media, and in return given a boost to the rural tourism economy, which can be evidenced by the crowds during the recent weeklong Chinese New Year holiday.
Xiaoshan District boasts four national and 136 city-level intangible cultural heritages with 172 inheritors. In a bid to protect these treasures, local government has built four demonstration bases, 18 workshops, 21 experience spots and 18 travel routes.
So far, about 10 intangible cultural heritages have developed to a certain scale, including lacemaking, traditional bookbinding and linen shoe weaving.
Shanghai Daily has been following Xiaoshan traditional lacemaking craft for over 10 years and has witnessed how the senior craftspeople hand down their skills.
In 2012, the Hangzhou government subsidized Zhao Xixiang in cultivating apprentices. The 87-year-old Zhao, a national intangible cultural heritage inheritor, has been adept at lacemaking skills for 70 years. He chose three as apprentices, based on their creativity.
Zhao valued their enthusiasm more than their professional ability. Lace craft is relatively tedious and it takes at least 10 years to achieve some success. Passion can help them get through the ensuing tough years.
In 2019, Shanghai Daily interviewed one of the three apprentices, Fu Manqian. She became Zhao's apprentice after quitting a better-paid job.
After more than 100 years, locals have expanded the original three or four lacemaking stitches to 35 and have produced 1,000 kinds of lace. Fu is trying to learn the most difficult, already having spent more than seven years learning the basics.
Last year, Xiaoshan District hosted a village tourism festival in efforts to spread the fame of local crafts among visitors. Now, Xiaoshan has been selected as one of the seven pilots to give an impetus to intangible cultural heritages. The government is going to draft industrial standards and widen the talent pool to develop cultural treasures.
Yuhang District is also among the seven pilots. Its intangible cultural heritage, Zhongtai bamboo flute-making technique, has developed into a large-scale industry that brings an annual sales volume of 340 million yuan (US$49.47 million).
Dizi, a side-blown bamboo flute, and xiao, a vertical bamboo flute, are widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music and popular among Chinese people.
Ying Mingzhang, 72, has been making Chinese flutes for more than 50 years. He opened the nation's first privately owned flute production company in modern times, Jiaying Musical Instrument Factory.
Now, Jiaying is one of China's important flute factories and has a good reputation among amateur players and professional performers. Led by Ying and his factory, Yuhang District has formed a professional bamboo flute-making industry, producing over 2 million bamboo flutes every year, accounting for 85 percent of the domestic market.
Kuzhu, literally translated as bitter bamboo, is considered the most suitable. It is not found in many parts of Zhejiang, but flourishes in Tonglingqiao Village in Yuhang District. Kuzhu flutes are distinguished by their accurate tuning and exquisite appearance. The local products have been exported to other countries, including Japan, South Korea and the United States, having found favor with overseas customers.
Besides common dizi and xiao, local craftspeople also produce uncommon Chinese flutes like chiba (known as shakuhachi in Japan, but originally from China) and paixiao (Chinese panpipes).
Today, Zhongtai Subdisitrct hosts music-training classes and competitions to promote the industry and also cultivate successors to hand down the making techniques. The bamboo flute industry also provides others with a good example of developing industrial standards and cultivating talent.