Forging iron: the time-honored skill being lost to history

Shen Tianyu
Zhu Atao is one of the few blacksmiths still working with iron, but the knowledge and skill required to make iron objects by hand is slowly, but surely, dying.
Shen Tianyu

Filmed by Zhou Shengjie. Edited by Shen Tianyu. Translated by Shen Tianyu. Polished by Andy Boreham.

The job of a blacksmith is always tough, what with the high temperatures and the endless requirement for tremendous physical effort. Because of the effort required, more and more factories have begun producing stainless steel knives nowadays, which means the tradition and craft or forging iron by hand is slowly being lost.

Zhu Atao is one of the few blacksmiths still working with iron — he began in 1964, quite by coincidence. At the time, Nanqiao’s bureau of industry needed several apprentices, and Zhu was appointed to the job of blacksmith. He was 18 then, and 72 now.

Over the past 55 years, Zhu has worked with iron persistently. He loves his job. In his eyes, working with iron is a kind of physical exercise for the old man, and he shows great pride in his skill. Handmade knives are sharper and better crafted than their factory-made counterparts, Zhu insists — one of his knives can be used for at least 20 years.

Although a lot of people come to him for his high-quality knives, a sadness is always niggling at the back of his mind. Young men are not willing to do this work — to carry on the legacy — so the knowledge and skill required to make iron objects by hand is slowly, but surely, dying.


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