Real Art, Folks

Folk art revival gets crafters’ creative spirits flowing


Wang Liang made a model dragonfly with dough in an impromptu act of creativity at China’s First Folk Arts Fair held recently in Beijing. The dragonfly was so lifelike that many visitors mistook it for a real insect. Wang is one of the 300 or so folk artists from more than 20 provinces and municipalities exhibiting their amazing works at the fair.

MUCH ATTENTION: Visitors are attracted by a paper-cutting artist at the Beijing Arts Fair

Inside the 36,000-square-meter exhibition hall in the Cultural Palace of Nationalities, stalls were packed with displays of jade carvings, paintings, books, paper cuttings, weaving and knitting, embroidery, earthenware and porcelain.

Since spring this year, arts fairs have been grabbing headlines across the country, like the Shanghai Folk Arts Fair held in March, the First Anhui Folk Arts and Crafts Fair in April and the Nanjing International Folk Arts Fair in May.

Chinese crafts had been ignored by urban residents for many years despite the varieties of clay sculptures, masks, clay figures, lanterns, paper cuttings, bamboo and wood carvings, puppets and new-year pictures found across the country. Paper cuttings and new-year pictures could be found only in rural areas. In recent years, however, people’s aesthetic has changed greatly and many decorate their new houses with new-year pictures, kites, wood sculptures and wax prints. Folk crafts, which were seen as outdated previously, have now become fashionable and much sought after by urban residents.

This change in attitude has also rekindled enthusiasm for producing crafts.

Yangjiabu Village in Weifang City is home to around 300 households, but it is China’s largest producer of new-year pictures. With every household involved in the production, the village can turn out 20 million new-year pictures a year.

China’s woodcarving of new-year pictures can be traced back more than 1,000 years. Their variety focused on the kitchen god and the door god in the past, which are still favored by rural residents. But today, they are also the best loved of urban residents. Now consumption by urban residents makes up 60 percent of the country’s total sales. This is partly because the variety of new-year pictures has been expanded greatly and the quality of paper and manufacturing process have also improved.

The prosperity of folk crafts helped nurture a group of young talented hands in this field. Xu Xi is one of them. A native of Henan Province, Xu learned to make paper cuttings when she was eight years old. Following the example from a textbook, she tore a paper cutting with her hands. Since then, Xu has been enthralled with this form of art. She spent all her spare time learning the skill of making paper cuttings. With years of effort, she has created numerous works, including human figures, flowers, birds and landscapes. The smallest paper cutting she made is not larger than her hand and the largest one is as long as 6 meters. In 2002, the Henan Folk Artist Society awarded her the title of “master of fine arts of Henan Province.”

Both the government and nongovernmental organizations have played an important role in rejuvenating China’s folk arts. Since the government launched the program of rescuing folk cultural heritage several years ago, a huge amount of crafts have been sought and collected. In August last year, a paper cutting-rescuing center was set up in Weixian, Hebei Province. The center, the first of its kind, is dedicated to compiling Chinese paper cuttings into a book. It will take three years to complete the program, which is projected to be 30 volumes long.

China’s First Folk Arts Fair is a part of the program to rescue folk arts. It aims to demonstrate the enchantment of folk arts, promote their prosperity and cultivate people’s taste of arts, stimulate consumption in this field and thus expand the market for these items, said Xiang Yunju, Secretary General of Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society, who is in charge of the rescuing cultural heritage program.