Trying to save traditional arts

By Candice Yang 

The melody of Cantonese opera comes from the radio in Weixing Copper Ware Store. Su Weixing, the storekeeper, is making tea with a copper teapot. He made the teapot by himself. As a craftsman working on copper casting, Su opened this store with his friend, which lies on Enning Road in the Liwan District.

“I like to chat with my customers,” said Su. “Copper casting is dull work, and I don’t have vacations. Chatting with them is a kind of rest and relaxation for me.”

Enning Road, which has an 85-year-history of selling crafts, shows the memory of old Guangzhou. Today it’s called “the Street of Old Firms.” Many copperware stores exist there. Making copperware requires tens of thousand of times beating the metal into place. The skill, called the Xiguan copper casting craft and the Wushi copper casting craft, became cultural heritages of Guangzhou in 2009. But the fact is that the copper casting craft faces problems of passing down the skills to a new generation of metal workers.

Su inherited the craft from his family and had worked at it for more than 40 years. But he doesn’t have any apprentices. His friend said copper casting is too laborious, and few young people are willing to work on it. “Copper casting is very dull,” he said. “Many old craftsmen also don’t do it anymore.”

Across the street from Su’s store, there is another store called Wushi Copper Ware Store. Wu Guoqiang, the storekeeper, is the successor of the Wushi copper casting skill. His family has worked at it for three generations. Wu used to have more than 30 apprentices, but there’s only one left now.

The copper casting craft is not the only one that faces difficulties. According to a Guangzhou Political Consultative Conference’s investigation, Guangzhou used to have more than 50 kinds of handicrafts. Since 2005, that number has dropped to about 20. The main reason is because young people are not interested.

Becoming intangible cultural heritages means that the crafts have important value, but it also means that they are faced with the danger of being lost.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.14.24 AM.pngCanton embroidery is another traditional craft in Guangdong, which became a national cultural heritage in 2006. Huang Dongmei is a craftswoman who makes Canton embroidery.

Huang started to learn Canton embroidery in 1996 and has worked at it for more than 20 years until now. Her teacher is Chen Shaofang, a master of Canton embroidery.

Huang said she learned Canton embroidery mostly because of her personal interest. “I was fond of drawing and embroidery when I was in school. And my teacher happened to recruit apprentices when I graduated. So I started to learn these crafts,” said Huang.

Huang said Chen had about 25 students from 2000 to 2002.
“Most of them studied Canton embroidery not because of interest but the need to find a job,” Huang said. “But there are few people who do this craft now. Most of them find another job that can make money, and some give up after getting married and giving birth to their children.”

Huang said she never makes a profit from doing Canton embroidery. She said it is not a job that can make money. “My income is not proportional to my payment,” said Huang. “The cost of a good embroidery work is pretty high, which is mainly reflected in time costs. The most time-consuming work I have done takes me three years to finish it.” The size of this work is 80 by 80 centimeters. It costs Huang ¥50,000 to 60,000, or about $7,000 to $8,000.

Huang doesn’t have her own store. She does the embroidery at home because she needs to take care of her child. Meanwhile, she insists on doing embroidery. She has some frequent customers, and they order embroidery works from her.

Huang doesn’t have any apprentices anymore but is still positive about the future of Canton embroidery.

“Embroidery has thousands of years of history. Embroidery works can be articles of daily use, as well as collectible artworks. So I think it can always be passed down,” she said.

There are some Internet friends of Huang asking her to establish a class to teach Canton embroidery, which gives her confidence about the craft. But Huang also has a concern.

“Many of them treat embroidery as an interest or way of leisure, not a traditional craft that needs professional technique. It’s hard for Canton embroidery to develop to the situation in my teacher’s generation again, where every family had a ‘beng,’ a tool to embroider.”

Huang agreed that there are fewer authentic Canton embroidery works. “To pass down the craft, knowing the skill is not enough. Canton embroidery is not only a skill. Craftsmen need to understand the themes that they embroider, which usually refers to the pictures they embroider. For example, if the theme of their work is a plant, then they have to understand the texture of the plant. The four famous embroideries in China, including Canton embroidery, Suzhou embroidery, Sichuan embroidery and Hunan embroidery, all contain and reflect their local culture. To do better work, craftsmen also need to be familiar with that culture,” said Huang. “Many people know how to embroider, but only a few people can pass down this traditional craft.”

The older generation of Guangzhou traditional craftspeople has the passion for handing down their crafts. Huang said she plans to open a Canton embroidery class. Su is also willing to share his skills with others.

The government has tried to help the craftspeople, but it apparently has not been enough to improve their businesses. And without enough income to support their crafts and enough enthusiasm to do the time-consuming work, fewer young people are likely to go into these traditional crafts.
Yang Meng Candice
The melody of Cantonese opera comes from the radio in Weixing Copper Ware Store. Su Weixing, the storekeeper, is making tea with a copper teapot. He made the teapot by himself. As a craftsman working on copper casting, Su opened this store with his friend, which lies on Enning Road in Liwan District.

“I like to chat with my customers,” said Su. “Copper casting is dull work, and I don’t have vacations. Chatting with them is a kind of rest and relaxation for me.”

Enning Road, which has an 85-year-history of selling crafts, shows the memory of old Guangzhou. Today it’s called “the Street of Old Firms.” Many copperware stores exist there. Making copperware requires tens of thousand of times beating the metal into place. The skill, called the Xiguan copper casting craft and the Wushi copper casting craft, became cultural heritages of Guangzhou in 2009. But the fact is that the copper casting craft faces problems of passing down the skills to a new generation of metal workers.

Su inherited the craft from his family and had worked at it for more than 40 years. But he doesn’t have any apprentices. His friend said copper casting is too laborious, and few young people are willing to work on it. “Copper casting is very dull,” he said. “Many old craftsmen also don’t do it anymore.”

Across the street from Su’s store, there is another store called Wushi Copper Ware Store. Wu Guoqiang, the storekeeper, is the successor of the Wushi copper casting skill. His family has worked at it for three generations. Wu used to have more than 30 apprentices, but there’s only one left now.

The copper casting craft is not the only one that faces difficulties. According to a Guangzhou Political Consultative Conference’s investigation, Guangzhou used to have more than 50 kinds of handicrafts. Since 2005, that number has dropped to about 20. The main reason is because young people are not interested.

Becoming intangible cultural heritages means that the crafts have important value, but it also means that they are faced with the danger of being lost.

Canton embroidery is another traditional craft in Guangdong, which became a national cultural heritage in 2006. Huang Dongmei is a craftswoman who makes Canton embroidery.

Huang started to learn Canton embroidery in 1996 and has worked at it for more than 20 years until now. Her teacher is Chen Shaofang, a master of Canton embroidery.

Huang said she learned Canton embroidery mostly because of her personal interest. “I was fond of drawing and embroidery when I was in school. And my teacher happened to recruit apprentices when I graduated. So I started to learn these crafts,” said Huang.

Huang said Chen had about 25 students from 2000 to 2002.
“Most of them studied Canton embroidery not because of interest but the need to find a job,” Huang said. “But there are few people who do this craft now. Most of them find another job that can make money, and some give up after getting married and giving birth to their children.”

Huang said she never makes a profit from doing Canton embroidery. She said it is not a job that can make money. “My income is not proportional to my payment,” said Huang. “The cost of a good embroidery work is pretty high, which is mainly reflected in time costs. The most time-consuming work I have done takes me three years to finish it.” The size of this work is 80 by 80 centimeters. It costs Huang ¥50,000 to 60,000, or about $7,000 to $8,000.

Huang doesn’t have her own store. She does the embroidery at home because she needs to take care of her child. Meanwhile, she insists on doing embroidery. She has some frequent customers, and they order embroidery works from her.

Huang doesn’t have any apprentices anymore but is still positive about the future of Canton embroidery.

“Embroidery has thousands of years of history. Embroidery works can be articles of daily use, as well as collectible artworks. So I think it can always be passed down,” she said.

There are some Internet friends of Huang asking her to establish a class to teach Canton embroidery, which gives her confidence about the craft. But Huang also has a concern.

“Many of them treat embroidery as an interest or way of leisure, not a traditional craft that needs professional technique. It’s hard for Canton embroidery to develop to the situation in my teacher’s generation again, where every family had a ‘beng,’ a tool to embroider.”

Huang agreed that there are fewer authentic Canton embroidery works. “To pass down the craft, knowing the skill is not enough. Canton embroidery is not only a skill. Craftsmen need to understand the themes that they embroider, which usually refers to the pictures they embroider. For example, if the theme of their work is a plant, then they have to understand the texture of the plant. The four famous embroideries in China, including Canton embroidery, Suzhou embroidery, Sichuan embroidery and Hunan embroidery, all contain and reflect their local culture. To do better work, craftsmen also need to be familiar with that culture,” said Huang. “Many people know how to embroider, but only a few people can pass down this traditional craft.”

The older generation of Guangzhou traditional craftspeople has the passion for handing down their crafts. Huang said she plans to open a Canton embroidery class. Su is also willing to share his skills with others.

The government has tried to help the craftspeople, but it apparently has not been enough to improve their businesses. And without enough income to support their crafts and enough enthusiasm to do the time-consuming work, fewer young people are likely to go into these traditional crafts.

 

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