China Scenic - - Heritage - Photo/ Shi Qing Fang

In an­cient times, to­day’s Jiangsu Beauty is of­ten frag­ile, and it is and Zhe­jiang cer­tainly the case with ji­axie . This were places an­cient art could not re­sist the as­sault where folk op

of mod­ern tex­tile dye­ing and print­ing eras pre­vailed. Hence, at that tech­niques, and ji­axie pro­duc­tion time, most started to de­cline as early as af­ter the of the skilled Song Dy­nasty. Nowa­days, the sur­vivprint­ing blocks ing ji­axie work­shops are con­fined to a carvers were

small area span­ning Jiangsu and Zhealso great opera fans and that exjiang and the range of the prod­ucts plains why the they are mak­ing is steadily nar­row­ing. pat­terns of ji­axie There is now a real risk of the in­dus­blocks are re­lat­try dy­ing out, as the oper­at­ing costs ed to op­er­atic

of this highly skilled trade are high, el­e­ments. and in­come and eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity are there­fore hard to guar­an­tee for both carvers and print­ers. Fur­ther­more, the mas­ters of this craft are near­ing very ad­vanced age and there is a cri­sis loom­ing, as they are strug­gling to find peo­ple to pass their skills to, which is now also typ­i­cal of many tra­di­tional Chi­nese hand­i­crafts.

These dif­fi­cul­ties must be con­fronted, how­ever, and both the crafts­men and the ex­perts are mak­ing great ef­forts in this re­spect. Some are learn­ing the trade from the mas­ters, while try­ing to in­tro­duce new, orig­i­nal de­signs. A good ex­am­ple is Mr. Wu Yuanxin, the Di­rec­tor of Nan­tong Blue Cloth Mu­seum. He does not come from a fam­ily of ji­axie mas­ters, but has a real pas­sion for this art and craft, which he has been learn­ing and re­search­ing for many years now. He has also amassed a col­lec­tion of over a hun­dred an­cient print­ing blocks, more than 9,000 sets of quilts and quilt cov­ers and over a hun­dred thou­sand carv­ing pat­tern blue­prints. Mr. Wu, how­ever, is not just a col­lec­tor, he is also de­ter­mined to make sure that ji­axie has a fu­ture, and a se­cure one.

The tra­di­tion of us­ing seven­teen wooden print­ing pan­els is al­ready a thou­sand years old, but Mr. Wu has come up with some­thing new, a four-panel ji­axie sys­tem. There are much fewer pan­els, but each one is much larger than stan­dard. The dif­fi­culty of this in­no­va­tion lies in the fact that the larger the panel, and the few pan­els there are, the harder it is to fix them down prop­erly as a stack. Mr. Wu’s de­sign uses square pan­els with each side of 85 cen­time­ters length, more than dou­ble the size of tra­di­tional ones. The fi­nal prod­uct made us­ing these can be used as capes or shawls or a ta­ble cloth for the house­hold. This ingenious adap­ta­tion of the tra­di­tional tech­niques is de­signed to en­able

the crafts­men to bet­ter adapt their pro­duc­tion to the de­mands of mod­ern life, giv­ing them an in­cen­tive to con­tinue with their trade.

Mr. Wu has also been re­lent­less in his quest to recre­ate the al­ready lost art of multi-col­ored ji­axie of the Tang Dy­nasty. He has al­ready suc­ceeded in re­pro­duc­ing the tra­di­tional print­ing blocks and mak­ing a multi-col­ored print on real silk. The re­sult was as­ton­ish­ing in its beauty. The per­se­ver­ance and com­mit­ment of Mr. Wu and his fel­low en­thu­si­asts of ji­axie , are what is pre­serv­ing this an­cient art alive.

Even more en­cour­ag­ing is the fact that young peo­ple have also started to take in­ter­est in ji­axie and their youth­ful en­thu­si­asm can be very touch­ing. One such group formed in Wen­zhou’s Shiqing Work­shop,

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