Mak­ing king­fisher feath­ers soar

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -


Gold, as­so­ci­ated with roy­alty in an­cient China, plays only a sup­port­ing role when placed to­gether with the feather of a king­fisher — a small, brightly col­ored bird — to make jew­elry.

The crafts­man­ship that makes a plucked feather shine and fly again is called di­an­cui, which lit­er­ally means “a dip of blue”.

In di­an­cui, king­fisher feath­ers are metic­u­lously cut and glued onto gold or gilt sil­ver to cre­ate an iri­des­cent ef­fect like cloi­sonne, which re­quires a lot of skill and pa­tience.

“Chi­nese crafts­men have been us­ing the blue feath­ers as an in­lay for jew­elry and fine ob­jects, such as head­dresses and fans. The beauty of di­an­cui can also be found in many an­cient nov­els and po­ems,” says Xiao Guangchun, who is one of the very few masters in China still em­ploy­ing very tra­di­tional ways to make di­an­cui jew­elry for museums, col­lec­tors and jew­elry de­sign­ers.

“Di­an­cui’s his­tory can be traced back more than 2,000 years, though now many peo­ple haven’t even heard of it,” says Xiao, who, in his 60s, is de­ter­mined to save the dy­ing craft.

Xiao learned di­an­cui skills from his fa­ther more than 30 years ago.

Thanks to tireless ef­forts in prac­tic­ing and pro­mot­ing the art, Xiao was given a certificate in 2013 by Bei­jing’s mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive heir of in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural heritage for his skills with di­an­cui.

His son showed no in­ter­est in his artis­tic skills, so Xiao has spent a lot of time per­suad­ing his daugh­ter Xiao Yumei to learn the skill, en­abling her to be­come his fam­ily’s third gen­er­a­tion torch­bearer of the an­cient craft.

Xiao Guangchun is now ap­ply­ing to be a na­tional-level rep­re­sen­ta­tive heir of di­an­cui.

“I know it is a hard trade, but I can feel the pas­sion of my fa­ther and didn’t want to let him down,” says Xiao Yumei, who, af­ter hav­ing ap­pren­ticed un­der his fa­ther for many years, can now work in­de­pen­dently on di­an­cui ob­jects.

Xiao Yumei quit her job and be­came a full-time di­an­cui prac­ti­tioner in 2013. She has been think­ing of set­ting up a work­shop in Bei­jing to pro­mote di­an­cui and at the same time make the quest to pre­serve the tra­di­tional craft into a prof­itable busi­ness.


A di­an­cui model of a king­fisher spec­i­men.


Xiao Guangchun is one of the very few masters in China em­ploy­ing very tra­di­tional ways to make di­an­cui jew­elry.

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