To celebrate Lunar New Year, we have returned to China to meet the families that are keeping time-honoured traditions and handcraft skills alive.
In a series of short documentaries, we spent time with these artisans, gaining fascinating insights into their inherited trades and understanding the sense of duty that comes with preserving these specialist craft techniques, which have been passed down to them through the generations.
Driven by their passion and pride for upholding family, regional and cultural heritages, these individuals have become torch bearers, responsible for imparting their knowledge to the next generation, just as they learnt from their predecessors.
The Art of Bench Dragons
In this film, we travelled to Pujiang, a county of the Zhejiang province, to meet the craftsman Wei Yonglai, who has been building bench dragons for his village for over 50 years and is now working with his son and grandchildren to continue this legacy.
Throughout China, local communities participate in an annual parade to celebrate Lunar New Year. On a series of connected benches, the participants build a dragon from materials like paper, fabric, bamboo and straw, decorate it in bright colours, and place lights or candles inside the body to form a giant snaking lantern.
The dragon, as a symbol for good luck and protection, becomes the centre piece for the festivities, with the locals dancing the mythical and revered creature around the village for hours whilst playing music and letting off fireworks.
The Art of Decorative Knotting
We met Yin Chongqin, a lifelong practitioner of Chinese knotting, the ancient decorative handicraft, and the latest in a long line of female knotters. Now a grandmother herself, she is teaching her granddaughter how to make the intricate knots and the significations behind each design.
Chinese knots have a long history as decorative objects for clothing and the home, whilst their role as symbolic totems that hold sentimental value and mystical powers, means they are also given as gifts, passed down as family heirlooms, or exchanged between partners as tokens of their love.
The knots are tied from a single length of cord or rope in a variety of colours, although most typically in red, which the Chinese believe symbolises luck, joy and happiness. Woven into different shapes of varying complexity, most knots are double layered and symmetrical on two axes.
The Art of Shadow Puppetry
Visiting the Liu family, we delved into shadow puppetry, a centuries-old form of Chinese theatre that involves colourful silhouette figures being manoeuvred on rods in front of a back-lit translucent screen.
It can take over ten years to become a master puppeteer as the complex performances involve learning a variety of skills and disciplines, including improvisational singing, playing musical instruments, and simultaneously manipulating several puppets. The puppeteers often build their own puppets from leather or paper, which can have up to twenty-four moving joints.
The future of this multifaceted craft relies on these skills being handed down by the theatre troupes to the next generation, from master to pupil, ensuring that the plays they perform will be enjoyed by many generations of families and children to come.
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