City in China’s Hubei revitalizes ancient Chu-style lacquer decoration technique

(People's Daily Online) 10:01, May 13, 2022

Photo shows lacquer artifacts from the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.). (Photo courtesy of Jingzhou Museum)

Jingzhou city in central China’s Hubei Province has revitalized its time-honored Chu-style lacquer decoration technique, which was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage (ICH) item in 2011, by applying innovative approaches to the craft in recent years, making it even more charming.

For thousands of years, the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique has been passed down from generation to generation in Hubei, which was part of the Chu State during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 B.C.) and the ensuing Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.) in ancient China.

In 2012, an institute dedicated to passing Jingchu intangible cultural heritage craftsmanship down was established. The institute encompasses workshops dedicated to the protection, inheritance and learning of ICH, as well as the production of relevant products, covering 18 national ICH items, including the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique, and 12 provincial-level items, according to Zhou Jing, director of the intangible cultural heritage protection center of the city.

At the institute, people can appreciate exquisite lacquerware items and witness the process for making lacquerware. The institute has served as a platform for ICH demonstration and inheritance, as well as for the production of ICH-related products, with many craftsmen making ICH works there, said Xu Xiaolan, president of the institute.

Meanwhile, the institute, affiliated to Changjiang Polytechnic of Art and Engineering, has hired ICH inheritors to teach students, replacing the traditional master-apprentice model with a modern apprenticeship program. In 2013, the polytechnic opened a major related to traditional crafts to cultivate inheritors of ICH items and traditional crafts.

The polytechnic has trained close to 1,000 students in this way in recent years, about 200 of whom have started their own businesses or have become partners of the institute.

Ma Guangbo, born after 2000, is a student majoring in the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique at the polytechnic. Ma won the first prize for making lacquerware during a national vocational skills competition in 2020.

Zou Dexiang, a national-level inheritor of the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique, is also a teacher at the polytechnic. According to Zou, making a piece of lacquerware involves about 20 steps, including choosing the proper materials, carving, polishing, lacquering, and tracing a design in gold. Zou spends about 200 hours teaching students at the polytechnic every year.

In 2017, a traditional craft workstation was set up in Jingzhou, aiming to revitalize traditional crafts represented by the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique. By introducing new technologies, designs and academic resources, the workstation has developed its own raw lacquer deep-processing technology, as well as green, cultural and innovative products that combine the lacquer technique with modern life.

Two years later, the workstation and the institute built a lacquer culture brand. “Our cultural and innovative products should be both practical and of artistic value,” said Xu.

By applying the Chu-style lacquer decoration technique, teachers and students from the institute, ICH inheritors and designers from universities including Tsinghua University have developed a variety of lacquerware products and innovative products with Chu-style cultural elements, including tablewares, tea wares, pens, and decorations.

In recent years, the institute has continued to expand its sales channels for ICH-related products. The institute’s annual sales volume for lacquered guqin, a traditional Chinese musical instrument, has reached about 20 million yuan (about $2.95 million), and that of lacquerware and cultural products has hit about 10 million yuan. The institute’s annual volume of orders for customized lacquerware has now approached 20 million yuan.

Besides, a whole industry chain that integrates lacquerware making, culture, tourism and lacquer processing has been taking shape in Jingzhou.

The institute began to launch experiential courses on handicrafts and lacquer art in 2015, attracting over 50,000 students and tourists each year.

The inheritance and development of the traditional lacquer technique has also driven the development of the lacquer tree-planting industry and the raw lacquer processing industry in Hubei. In 2018, the traditional craft workstation established a lacquer tree planting base in the province’s Zhuxi county, Shiyan city. Moreover, the workstation started the construction of a workshop that processes raw lacquer and colored lacquer in Badong county in 2019.

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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