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Past Traditions Rekindled at Made In China Workshop
   2014-05-28 10:37:34    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Shen Siling

Traditional shoe-maker, Wang Guanqin, instructs a workshop participant in the finer points of embroidery at Made In China, an event put on as part of a series of C!Talk lectures. The event was held on May 19, 2014. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

By William Wang

Of course China will boast about its intangible cultural heritage, but heritage takes on a more intimate flavor when the local community gets involved to explore and create the crafts that originated many dynasties ago.

This past Sunday saw a mishmash of local and expat folks draw together at the World Culture Open (WCO) office to learn about three traditional Chinese handicrafts: traditional shoe-making, paper-cutting and kite-making. The event was part of the WCO's C!Talk series of discussions and workshops that showcase cultural and creative practices.

The afternoon event had a full house, with over 40 people attending the free workshops. After a brief video, which showed each of the three masters discussing their respective crafts, people broke up into groups to explore the works.

Shoe-maker Wang Guanqin taught a group of people about the labors involved with embroidering shoes the traditional way. She started learning the craft 69 years ago at the tender age of six. The shoes she creates and their delicate embroidered patterns are remarkably elegant, whether they are simple or complicated. "Every pair of my shoes has its own story and culture," she enthused.

The workshop attendees were busy poking needles and thread through pockets of material, creating a tiny flower pattern. Some found the practice to be meditative, though others found it rather frustrating. "It's very difficult to find someone who can succeed in this field," Wang noted. "Because in today's society people live at a quick pace and don't have the patience to make a pair of these shoes." It's true that the process is a slow one. According to Wang, a rather basic pair of shoes takes a week to complete, whereas four people working together could require six months to complete a complicated pair of boots.

Adjacent to the group of embroiderers, Wang Xinmin showed off the craft he's been cultivating since he was seven: paper cutting. Much of his skill comes from his 20 years in the military. "I used to be a soldier serving in the military, as an artilleryman, you know," he noted. In his years there, he contributed his paper cutting skills to some military publications, later entering a military art competition where he was awarded a third place award for his skills.

Today, however, Wang Xinmin knows that paper-cutting is hardly as popular as it once was. "There's not many people left doing traditional paper cutting," he sighed. "And there're no places to study it, so this whole tradition's a dying art." At least seeing his workshop group fussing over squares of red paper with scissors and knives offered him some solace that today's youth still can happily dive into the crafts of times long passed.

The third workshop had participants hunched over their paper kites, busily decorating them in with watercolor paints before attaching the frames. Master kite-maker Wang Chifeng noted sincerely how professional and original their work was. He would know; he has been crafting and painting kites for so long and with such skill that the government has qualified his household as a "Folk Art Family."

During the Cultural Revolution, Wang Chifeng spent a great deal of time in the Hulunbuir Grasslands, in Inner Mongolia, and in the plains of Qinghai. His observations of nature and, particularly, of the soaring eagles would become a great influence on the crafting of his kites.

The structure of his kites is equally important as the way they're decorated, and he's quick to boast that every one of his kites will fly and fly well. His reputation is known, and a team of researchers gave him his latest assignment: to create a seagull-shaped kite that will fly at the fore end of a boat as it explores regions of the South Pole.

By the end of the session, workshoppers were showing off their creations to each other. Sonia Meyer had proven herself adept at shoe embroidery and hinted that there would be more to come. Her brother, Joey, however was self-deprecating: "I actually found it really difficult," he laughed. "I don't think I'm built for it."

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