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Folk Crafts
Special> Living Legacies> Folk Crafts
UPDATED: October 9, 2012 Web Exclusive
A Cut Above the Rest
A carving craftsman brings jade to life
By Ma Li

FOR ART: Lang Xiaofeng, an inheritor of jade carving of north China art, works at his studio in Chaoyang District in Beijing on August 28 (SHI GANG)

Every piece of jade carving work created by Liang Xiaofeng features a unique style and is true to life, with titles like God of Thunder, Frog Fun and Tercel.

Liang, a craftsman in jade carving for over 20 years, follows the tradition of carving set in the art of north China. His works combines the majestic and solemn atmosphere of the north with the gentle elegance of the south.

Jade carving was divided into four main styles in China. The northern style is centered on the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin, as well as Liaoning Province in north China. The Yang style is found in Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. Hai style originated in Shanghai, and the southern style began in the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian in south China, according to netizen Cuigongchang.

Jade carving encompasses the artistic trade of carving images of figures, birds and flowers out of jade. It is one of the oldest carving techniques in China.

Works of modern jade carving feature a great diversity of forms, from large shapes like vessels, birds, animals and flowers, to small ones like brooches, rings and personal adornments.

Certain jade carving techniques were listed among the first, second and third batches of state-level intangible cultural heritage items separately in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

Jade dreams

"I have liked drawing since my childhood," said Lang Xiaofeng at his studio in Chaoyang District in Beijing on August. "Although my dream was to enter China's Central Academy of Fine Arts, I became a skilled worker at a jade carving factory after I graduated from middle school," Lang told Beijing Review.

As a Beijinger born in the 1970s, Lang enjoys the cultural atmosphere of the ancient city. He aspired to become a well-known Chinese painter like Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong.

Lang Xiaofeng first began painting in primary school, where he had art lectures that inspired his life. "I took painting as my life dream ever since," Lang said.

Having studied for four years in a vocational school, Lang became a worker engaged in jade carving — "my definite choice," he said. He liked the process of jade carving to put forth his notion of creation.

However, his zest for the work did not immediately produce true creation. He often failed to properly carve a figure, wasting materials as a result. He summed up experiences under the guidance of his masters.

In his opinion, the goal of the carving art is to endow the jade with a perfect artistic image and enable the work of art to be valued and worthy of collection.

After a failed piece, he was sometimes afraid of being criticized by his masters. Spoiling a piece of jade was emotionally taxing for the striving artist. But Lang was not willing to give up.

"A person can only surpass himself when he consistently finds lessons after a failure, and works to overcome himself," said Lang.

It was this insistence and the string of learning experiences that enabled Lang to find success. His bold innovation in carving style received acknowledgement in the field. His two works — General and Premier Make Up and God of Thunder — won state-level prizes in 1990 and 1991, respectively.

Since then, his works have won prizes almost every year. His piece entitled Frog Fun won two prizes — the gold prize of China Hundred Flower Award for Jade Article, and the special prize of the fourth Beijing Arts and Crafts Exhibition in 2009.

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