Fengxian promotes heritage to protect skills

Fengxian District invites nearly 1,000 designers, including from US, UK, Australia, Italy, Spain and Japan, to a design competition.
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A performance of the rolling lamp dance in a festive celebration in Zhelin Town of Fengxian District.

A suburban town in Shanghai is inviting foreign designers to renovate its community and will promote local cultural heritage to preserve its iconic traditional skills.

Nanqiao Town in the city’s southern Fengxian District plans to build over 30 parks near wet markets and neighborhoods by August that will incorporate local inherited skills, such as “rolling lamp” and “paper tearing.”

The township government has invited nearly 1,000 designers, including from United States, UK, Australia, Italy, Spain and Japan, to a design competition that seeks to improve the living environment while highlighting traditional skills.

“Nanqiao has many historic sites and cultural heritage, and we hope to highlight and promote history and culture through the renovation campaign,” said Shen Mingjun, director with Nanqiao Community Cultural Activity Center.

The government will invite an expert panel and design institutes to further evaluate proposed designs with a view to turning them into reality, according to the Nanqiao government.

The rolling lamp is an iconic city-level cultural heritage dating back to over 700 years ago. Local farmers initially performed the rolling lamp in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to welcome armies fighting Japanese pirates that were rife in the east coast region then.

The Fengxian rolling lamp ball is made with 12 bamboo chips and has a smaller ball inside with a candle in the middle. The performer rolls, weaves and throws up the bamboo ball, incorporating acrobatic movements.

“The traditional performance is quite popular among local residents who are not only interested in watching but also performing,” said Shen Yuqin, Party secretary of Haiyun neighborhood committee of Zhelin Town of Fengxian, where the rolling lamp originated.

In a similar campaign in its neighboring Nanqiao Town, Zhelin has renovated streetlights on some busy roads in the shape of rolling lamps to promote the historic heritage.

During the Lantern Festival which falls on Friday, amateur teams comprising residents will perform along with their professional counterparts on streets across the town to entertain the audiences.

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In one of the designs for the parks, several bamboo-weaved rolling lamps feature at a community park in the town center.

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A design blueprint for one of the parks to be built in Nanqiao Town in Fengxian District which aims to highlight its traditional heritage.

Shanghai has listed over 200 items of “intangible cultural heritage,” including literature, music, dance, opera, sports, arts, handicrafts, traditional medicine and folk arts. Some are on the verge of being lost forever, but those in suburban regions are flourishing due to people’s adherence to traditions.

Similar efforts have been taken to sustain other heritage in the suburb such as paper tearing, a primitive skill that requires no tool or sketches but impromptu ideas.

Students are brought to the cultural center in Nanqiao to practice paper tearing under the guidance of heritage masters once a week, while a former milk curd factory has been preserved and will be converted into a traditional milk curd museum, according to Shen Mingjun.

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Children are encouraged to perform the traditional rolling lamp in Zhelin Town of Fengxian District.