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Special> Video> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: January 19, 2011 Web Exclusive
More Than Just Handicrafts


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The creativity and ingenuity of Chinese farmers was on display at an exhibition in downtown Beijing. Titled "Handicrafts in the Countryside," the exhibition was held from January 9 to January 18 in the National Art Museum of China. The exhibition was the culmination of a research project that examined the handicrafts made by farmers living in east China's Shandong Province. Works shown at the event included kites, paintings, carvings, weavings and knot-tying crafts.

Forty-year-old Wang Fujing, a resident in Linshu County, learned how to weave baskets when he was 16 years old. Wang says his favorite thing about weaving is that he can use his skills to make money at home, allowing him to spend more time with his family.

"The weave technique I used here is a bit complex," Wang said. "The thinner willows make it look a bit nicer."

Willow weaving has a long tradition in Wang's hometown. Weaved handicrafts has become a pillar industry for the local economy since the 1980s. More than 250,000 farmers churn out weaved handicrafts there; in 2009 alone, the total value of the crafts produced in Linyi reached 6 billion yuan ($850 million).

"I feel honored to be here," Wang said. "I never thought that I could come to the capital to show off my handicrafts. If I get sponsored here, I would like to open a store and sell my own products."

According to exhibition manager Zhao Yi, the exhibition has a great deal of meaning for the farmers that have contributed to it.

"This is the first time that rural handicrafts are being presented as a cultural project," Zhao said. "We'd like to attract more attention from the whole country. The countryside today should not be labeled as 'poor' or 'backward' anymore. It's a cradle of art.

"On one hand, this kind of work can help increase farmers' incomes in their spare time without having to seek jobs elsewhere. On the other hand, it is not purely physical work, but also creative and artistic, which can help to make the countryside more modern and cultured," she added.

In addition to the handicrafts on display, the exhibition also features cartoons, informational videos and opportunities for visitors to create a few crafts of their own.

Yang Xianrang, 81, is a researcher interested in Chinese folk art. He said he was deeply impressed by the exhibition.

"From an artistic angle, every exhibit here is a great work of art," Yang said. "I saw a lot of art deco pieces when I was living in the United States. Looking around here, the pieces are fantastic! From an economic angle, it is a great leap forward. It is a trend that will lead traditional rural handicrafts into a modern age."

Sponsored by the national cultural authority in 2006, the rural handicraft project is partially the result of research conducted by Professor Pan Lusheng some 30 years ago.

Born in 1962 in Shandong, Pan devoted himself to studying and protecting Chinese folk art. He visited more than 1,000 rural craftsmen and recorded 121 handicraft techniques during his research. Pan even proposed an academic discipline revolving around Chinese handicrafts in 2004.

"Handicraft is part of life. It can make people in urban areas feel more connected to nature," Pan said. "The eight suggestions we proposed here can be seen as the conclusion of the project. The project showed innovation in many areas such as policy-making, financial support as well as marketing. I hope the exhibition will encourage the protection of our intangible heritage, as well as help the craftsmen that make these works of art."


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