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China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | ART - By ED ZHANG edzhang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

town with some 90,000 res­i­dents, Xukou is a small place. It’s just one of the 15 di­vi­sions of Wuzhong, and Wuzhong is just one of the 10 dis­trict-level di­vi­sions of Suzhou. Xukou is 15 km away from the Suzhou down­town.

But Xukou’s im­por­tance is much larger. If you know the story of Suzhou, which goes that in 560 BC, dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn pe­riod (770-476 BC), the lord of Wu com­mis­sioned a man called Wu Zixu ( 559-484 BC) to build a city forhimin to­day’s Suzhou, youmay sense some con­nec­tion there0: Xukou was named af­terWu Zixu. And like Suzhou, it has a his­tory dat­ing back to more than 2,500 years ago.

Wu Zixu is re­garded by peo­ple in Suzhou as a lo­cal hero. And Xukou has his tomb and tem­ple.

Just as a rich his­tory has left Suzhou with a be­quest of canals, streets, stone bridges, and most dis­tinc­tively, el­e­gantly built gar­dens, it has en­dowedXukou peo­ple with a tra­di­tional gift in cre­at­ing the Suz­houstyle gar­dens and brush paint­ings and cal­lig­ra­phy.

Of course, Xukou has fac­to­ries with over­seas in­vestors, like else­where in Suzhou. The city, as a whole, con­trib­utes nearly 60 per­cent of the im­port and ex­port of Jiangsu prov­ince. But Xukou con­tin­ues to be best known for the ar­chi­tec­ture and art its peo­ple cre­ate.

Xukou is 15 km away from the city’s busy down­town, nes­tled in a quiet curve on the bank of Taihu Lake, the big­gest lake in the Yangtze River Delta.

Be­gin­ning with the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), schol­ars and artists liked to set­tle down there, to do their cre­ative work while en­joy­ing the scenery of its en­vi­ron­ment, and to make friends with the ar­ti­sans and crafts­men from the neigh­bor­hood.

If the city of Suzhou is com­pared to a piece of art work, then it is Xukou that pro­vides the city with the peo­ple to build and main­tain its beauty — in gar­den court­yards, in brush paint­ings, in cal­lig­ra­phy scrolls, and in all their de­tails ex­pres­sive of the time­less folk­lore.

Xukou pro­vides not just to Suzhou. It seems that any­where in the world, if one can spot an el­e­ment of Chi­nese art, that el­e­ment may very well be from Xukou, at least in part.

As­tor Court in The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York City, a re-cre­ation of a Ming Dy­nasty-style gar­den court­yard, was built by ar­chi­tects and crafts­men from Xukou, tra­di­tion­ally known as the Xiang Shan Guild.

“Our tra­di­tion ac­tu­ally goes much longer thanMing”, said Xue Lin­gen, one of the cur­rent lead­ers of Xiang Shan Guild.

“It was only from Ming it got fa­mous, af­ter many Xiang Shan ar­chi­tects and ar­ti­sans were re­cruited for build­ing the For­bid­den City, the Ming im­pe­rial palace, in Bei­jing.”

In paint­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy, Xukou wants to build brand­ing power just as well.

From mid to late Ming Dy­nasty, brush painters (who were most likely also cal­lig­ra­phers) in Suzhou de­vel­oped Wu Men school.

In re­cent years, there has been a re­vival of that genre, in pure art and in art mar­ket as well.

In Bei­jing South Rail­way Sta­tion, per­haps the world’s largest hub for high-speed trains, the hand­ed­painted pa­per-bam­boo fans sold in the sou­venir shop, some sev­eral thou­sand yuan apiece, are made in Suzhou, by artists in­clud­ing the many small stu­dio own­ers based in Xukou.

Xukou now has a com­mu­nity of about 2,000 known brush painters, cal­lig­ra­phers, and spe­cial­ists in mount­ing paint­ings, more than 600 art deal­ers, and sev­eral pri­vate art mu­se­ums.

The small lake­side town has grown into a key bas­tion for the neoWuMen art school. their own (mean­ing genre, called Suzhou) art

creativ­ity and the abil­ity is es­sen­tial to bal­let dancers.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

From left: Artist Liu Xudong ex­cels in paint­ing on tra­di­tional fold­ing fans; Yu Wenx­ian, master of Luban lock, also known as Kong­ming lock, a de­tach­able toy with nine wooden slips.

An un­wa­ver­ing ded­i­ca­tion to

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