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
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.
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.