China’s ar­ti­sans work magic with stone

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - James Healy

The Chi­nese excel at many cul­tural and artis­tic en­deav­ors, but their ex­per­tise in one par­tic­u­lar field has left a last­ing im­pres­sion, quite lit­er­ally, the world over.

With knife or power-as­sisted tool in hand, China’s ar­ti­sans dis­play, as they have in the Mid­dle King­dom for time im­memo­rial, an out­stand­ing abil­ity to in­still magic and life in ma­te­ri­als rang­ing from hard­wood to olive pits.

While jade in an ar­ray of stun­ning col­ors may be the stone most as­so­ci­ated with Chi­nese carv­ings, three mag­nif­i­cent agates — Yun­nan’s nan­hong, Sichuan’s yanyuan and nan­hong and In­ner Mon­go­lia’s alashan — are in­creas­ingly tak­ing the spot­light.

My in­tense love af­fair with China’s mas­ter­ful carv­ings

This Day, That Year

lured me re­cently on a wind­ing jour­ney, by sub­way, taxi and on foot, far into the back al­leys of south­east­ern Bei­jing, where I vis­ited a stone carver’s hum­ble yet hal­lowed work space.

The crafts­men call these work­places “fac­to­ries”, a term that in the West con­jures up im­ages of mass pro­duc­tion and soul-sap­ping work. But in these work­shops, hand-fash­ioned, highly ex­pres­sive art be­gins the jour­ney from rough rock to pol­ished per­fec­tion.

At tool-strewn ta­bles not un­like the work­benches where my fa­ther and grandpa fash­ioned fur­ni­ture and other items from lum­ber, artists, young and old alike, as­sess raw stones and en­gage their imag­i­na­tion. Then, with ink on stone, they metic­u­lously draw ev­ery line and curve that they’ll soon carve.

Their eye for de­tail is as­tound­ing. From cranes and mon­keys to bam­boo shoots and lo­tus blos­soms, carvers turn mul­ti­col­ored stones into mas­ter­pieces.

I was shown drag­ons both fierce and friendly — their pierc­ing eyes aglow — coil­ing among clouds, breath­ing fire, dis­play­ing claws and whip­ping their tails in myr­iad regal col­ors. Bud­dhas in deep re­pose and tigers prowl­ing in the mist also were among the in­cred­i­bly life­like carv­ings.

It be­came clear that these pieces, des­tined to be­come pen­dants, bracelets or rings, im­part a power that’s quite pal­pa­ble to the ap­pre­cia­tive owner.

Like­wise en­chant­ing are China’s carved olive pits, cut with amaz­ing pre­ci­sion to de­pict such won­ders as Suzhou scenery, the Shaolin pro­gen­i­tor Damo or the glar­ing martial god Guan Gong. Carved am­ber, in bril­liant yel­lows and reds, is an­other show­stop­per.

And don’t for­get jade in just about any color, and turquoise from the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion or Hubei prov­ince.

Many Chi­nese, par­tic­u­larly deal­ers, at­tach value pri­mar­ily to the carved ma­te­rial — the type and qual­ity of stone. How­ever, with a grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the crafts­man’s touch (the con­sen­sus is that the best carvers are from Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince), I as­cribe much more value to the carv­ing it­self, and to whether the fin­ished piece is en­dowed with a cer­tain in­de­scrib­able an­i­ma­tion.

Be­hold­ing such ex­quis­ite carv­ings has left me spell­bound. So con­vinc­ingly are they ren­dered that some­times, when one of my trea­sures catches the light just right, I won­der whether drag­ons and winged horses might ac­tu­ally ex­ist beyond the realm of myth.

mo­ment: A woman with un­usual weight gave birth to a baby with the help of 16 health work­ers. The woman, who weighed 140 kilo­grams with the baby, suf­fers from sev­eral diseases, mak­ing the de­liv­ery dif­fi­cult. The med­i­cal team com­pris­ing ob­ste­tri­cians, anes­thetists, pe­di­a­tri­cians, mid­wives and nurses, spent two hours as­sist­ing her. This is the sec­ond time she has be­come a mother.

Con­tact the writer at jameshealy @chi­


See more by scan­ning the code.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.