Outstanding crafts boost traditional culture
Zhejiang government announced a new batch of outstanding crafts last month, and 19 Hangzhou products are included.
Many of the crafts have already been listed as intangible cultural heritage of the province and are regularly purchased as souvenirs by visitors. Recently, local governments have launched measures and policies aimed at reviving old-time handicrafts and passing down traditional culture to the younger generation.
Shanghai Daily selected three Hangzhou crafts that feature distinctive local style and epitomize the city’s enriched culture.
Jiuqu Hongmei tea
Longwu Town, located in the hilly area of western Hangzhou, is home to Jiuqu Hongmei tea. Different from mild, refreshing West Lake Longjing tea that is ideal for summer, Jiuqu Hongmei tea is characterized by a sweet-scented aroma, suitable for autumn and winter.
Handmade Jiuqu Hongmei was listed as Zhejiang Province’s intangible cultural heritage in 2009. Lu Huafang, 48, is the only woman who has been named as an intangible cultural heritage inheritor of making Jiuqu Hongmei in Xihu District.
As a Longwu Town native, Lu grew up in a tea family. Her grandfather and father made a living from tea and then handed down the skills to her. Now, Lu has four apprentices to whom she’s handing down her tea-making wisdom.
In a bid to promote Jiuqu Hongmei, Lu has established the Meilong Tea Society as a platform to host cultural activities for universities and organizations in Hangzhou.
Today, Lu has more than 12 hectares of tea trees which produce high-caliber Jiuqu Hongmei. All of the trees on her plantation are 50 years old or above, since only old trees grow buds for black tea. Their roots run deep into the soil, absorb more nutrients and sustain through low temperatures and drought.
Every year, Lu produces 2,500 kilograms of Jiuqu Hongmei. Every kilogram contains about 72,000 buds. In spring, the buds are considered the gentlest with a subtler aroma.
Seventy-three-year-old Wang Liandao has long invested his time and money in reviving Tianzhu chopsticks. In 2009, the chopsticks were officially listed as part of Zhejiang’s intangible cultural heritage. Wang was also named as a provincial-level heritage inheritor.
Today, he and his team still make the olden chopsticks with authentic Zhejiang small-diameter bamboo and often incorporate distinctive Hangzhou elements into their designs.
Tianzhu chopsticks were once essential eating utensils for every household in Hangzhou. However, they fell into obscurity in recent decades due to the availability of mass-produced alternatives.
Wang’s team doesn’t completely replicate the original production process. On the contrary, they adjusted their facilities and updated their tools to keep pace with modern times, improving quality and carving out a new market.
Wang also offers tailor-made sets for five-star hotels and time-honored restaurants. He designed several Hangzhou motifs by drawing on his skills in calligraphy and ink-wash painting. He showed Shanghai Daily some ornately patterned chopsticks that feature noted landscapes of the West Lake and Hangzhou folk legends.
Kanshan Town was a center of lace-making in the 1970s, when around 200,000 people worked in the industry, a pillar of the local economy. However, the industry declined like many others, and today there are only eight people involved. Xiaoshan Lace Factory, which employed 1,500 workers at the peak time, closed in the late 1990s.
Dai Shuizhen, 57, has been making lace for decades. She came up with a new style that integrated lace with embroidery from Zhejiang.
Silk is too fragile to make lace, so Dai sewed embroidered silk cloth and lace together. The embroidery is white while the lace is beige. The mixed hues give a deceptive 3D effect. A piece of ornate bedspread usually took her a whole year to complete.
Since Catholic missionaries brought European lace-making techniques to Xiaoshan District a century ago, locals have enriched the original patterns and stitches by turning it into a Hangzhou specialty with its own style.