Liu Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor

Zhu Yuting
One man's obsession with ancient Chinese armor has developed into a full-fledged studio of cultural relics and artifacts in Zhujiajiao Ancient Town in Qingpu District.
Zhu Yuting

Shot by Sun Chao. Edited by Sun Chao. Subtitles by Zhu Yuting and Sun Chao.

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

Liu Xiang runs a Chinese armor studio in Zhujiajiao Ancient Town in Qingpu District.

Chinese armor is a rare treasure for fans of traditional culture since it transports them to an earlier era. It is made of metal, with clues hidden in ancient stone statues and cultural artifacts .

The armor culture in Shanghai has expanded beyond a specialized interest and has emerged in Zhujiajiao Ancient Town.

Liu Xiang, an admirer of Chinese armor, helped turn it into a modern-day cultural enterprise.

He runs a studio, Nanzhili, in Zhujiajiao, a historic water town in Qingpu District.

"Nanzhili (South Zhili ) is the name of the Jiangnan Region in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), where Shanghai is located," he said. "My favorite armor style is from that era."

Liu has a variety of armor in his studio, each one a priceless possession.

"Putting on armor, picking up weapons, and riding a war horse is the dream of many men, including me," Liu said.

"In ancient times, the battles were not very long because a set of armor was very heavy, and soldiers could not hang on to it for a long time,"Liu said.

Liu focuses on finding out about the cultural significance of the armors and the nearly extinct handicrafts that were used to make them.

"China has a long history of developing armor and weapons, and it has many varieties of armor," said Liu .

"I have visited a few places around the country to research and study the many kinds of armor, which date from the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220) to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)."

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

Some collections of Chinese armor by Liu Xiang

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

The scale armor

His research indicates that there are significant disparities amongst armor types in terms of construction materials, weave forms, and degree of protection.

"Armors were manufactured from a variety of materials, including leather, plants, and metals," Liu said.

Metal armor was tougher and more durable than armor made of plants. They were designed for different types of soldiers.

From his collection of sketches, he found that different dynasties had different armors.

The most popular type of armor was lamellar armor, or zhajia. Liu says that this type of armor was often used by the ancient army because it offered a high level of protection.

"Additionally, there was Yulinjia armor with scales that resemble fish scales and shanwensuozijia, or chain mail armor with scales that resemble the Chinese character for '山'."

He spent a lot of time figuring out the woven style of the chain mail because none of the previously excavated artifacts could be used as a reference.

"Our present model of chain mail has been updated from ancient texts and stone statues found in several temples and historic sites," Liu said.

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

Liu Xiang introduces the horse armor.

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

A horse armor is on display in Liu Xiang's studio.

A horse's armor, from the end of the Han Dynasty, has been transformed from one piece to many pieces in his studio.

"The culture of armor has a very long history and is linked to many fields. It also reflects the development of society at that time."

The more he studied, the more obsessed he became. That is why his hobby has become his career. He has turned the production of armor collections into a business and is attempting to scale it up.

"We can learn so much about how clever our ancestors were from the process of building armor," Liu said.

Along with various types of armor, his studio also displays a wide range of traditional Chinese outfits. These outfits attract a large number of admirers, some of whom dress in various styles, while others dance in armor.

They all share the same goal, which is to preserve Chinese traditional culture.

"People come here," Liu said, "not to make money, but to share a common interest, to exhibit their passion for the inspired Chinese historic culture."

Liu  Xiang: Zhujiajiao's knight in shining armor
Sun Chao / SHINE

Liu Xiang's studio has a rich collection of hanfu , or traditional Chinese clothes, dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.

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