FAN­NING THE FLAMES OF TRA­DI­TION

Once used as a sta­tus sym­bol and lux­ury ac­ces­sory in China, tra­di­tional fans are now mak­ing a come­back in the world of an­tique col­lec­tion, thanks to a group of crafts­men from Suzhou

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

A grow­ing num­ber of young peo­ple have started to flow into this in­dus­try and are, some­what sur­pris­ingly, mak­ing a good liv­ing de­spite the com­pe­ti­tion.

Li Jing is one such per­son. The 30-year-old na­tive of Ji­ax­ing, a neigh­bor­ing town of Suzhou, said he was born “an old soul” and has been in­ter­ested in Chi­nese tra­di­tional opera and its props ever since he could read and un­der­stand the an­cient Chi­nese lan­guage used in such per­for­mances.

With lit­tle chance to sing opera on and off the stage — he said that his strict par­ents never al­lowed him to — he took a de­tour “to in­dulge in the things he loves”. He later be­came a self-taught moon-shaped fan maker while ma­jor­ing in busi­ness man­age­ment in col­lege.

A widely-used prop for fe­male char­ac­ters in tra­di­tional Chi­nese opera, moon-shaped fans gen­er­ally have a silk cover and frames made from bam­boo or wood. Li’s fans, how­ever, fea­ture a twist. His cre­ations, which are made us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als from old fur­ni­ture, jew­elry and ac­ces­sories and are sold for thou­sands of yuan, have been quickly snapped up by col­lec­tors.

“The fact that rich Chi­nese shop for lux­ury bags and fancy cars doesn’t mean they have bad taste. It could also mean that those for­eign brands have found a way to cater to their con­tem­po­rary needs. That hap­pens to be some­thing Chi­nese crafts­man are poor at,” said Li.

His bright and well-dec­o­rated stu­dio is hid­den in an al­ley in down­town Suzhou. Like his fans, the stu­dio is quaint but fea­tures a mod­ern touch.

“I be­lieve the pen­chant for tra­di­tional things is deeply rooted in al­most ev­ery­one. As a crafts­man, I feel a need to bring out this in­cli­na­tion in peo­ple and to make tra­di­tion more ac­ces­si­ble,” said Li.

“That is also why every pe­riod in his­tory needs its own crafts­man, de­spite the fact that there is al­ready so many masters ahead of us.”

Bo Yi­meng con­trib­uted to this story.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY, PHO­TOS BY GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Fans that have good crafts­man­ship and in­tri­cate de­signs are highly sought af­ter by col­lec­tors and can cost tens of thou­sands of yuan.

Wang Jian (left) and Li Jing have each earned ac­claim for their work in craft­ing tra­di­tional fans.

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