Mountain villagers grow incomes through miniature trees
Hong Yu, a girl from the post-90s generation, spends much of her time on e-commerce platforms, touting various penjing trees – or Chinese bonsai trees – that have been grown and shaped in her home village.
"What you're seeing right now is a traditional hand-crafted dragon-shaped penjing," Hong tells her online followers excitedly, as she broadcast from her family's garden in Maihuayu Village, located in a mountainous area of east China's Anhui Province.
Penjing is the ancient Chinese art of creating artistically formed trees, plants and landscapes in miniature. The penjing plants Hong sells are Hui-style penjing originating from Anhui. It takes less than three minutes for her to sell the exquisite piece she is holding before the camera.
She started livestreaming penjing plants in February last year after deciding to explore more markets for this traditional art. It has now become the new normal for her, a job she does six days a week.
"So far this year, about 80 percent of my family's sales have been online," said Hong, adding that she is full of energy and hopes to expand the business.
In Maihuayu, the skills to create Hui-style penjing have been passed down from generation to generation. Today, with the help of e-commerce and favorable policies, the craft is still benefitting the villagers.
Almost all of the 236 families in Maihuayu are engaged in making penjing, and the sales volume of the village as a whole in 2022 is estimated at over 25 million yuan (about 3.69 million US dollars).
"The villagers' lives are getting better, and their enthusiasm for creation is growing. No one wants to remain idle and their time is spent on creating new products," said Xu Yulong, a village official.
Encouraged by the changes in Maihuayu, many villagers who had left have now returned, especially young people.
At present, there are more than 60 Hui-style penjing practitioners under the age of 35 in the village, injecting new vitality into the thousand-year-old art.
Furthermore, with the penjing business flourishing, more villagers are dedicated to inventing new products that will attract more customers.
Hong Hai, 58 years old, has created a type of small and delicate "finger penjing." With prices going as low as 10 yuan, the product has become popular among young customers.
"As the development of my hometown is getting better, I chose to return in 2014 to start my own penjing business. Now my income is more than twice what I earned while working elsewhere," he said.