Xia Yuzhui's Pearly Wonders
One of China’s finest fishing grounds, Zhoushan, has been drawing fishermen from the country’s coastal provinces for its cornucopian offerings for centuries. What’s more, the long-time marine industrial prosperity of the archipelago has given rise to the city’s bustling arts and crafts scene. The older generations of Zhoushan folk have invented an assortment of methods of making beautiful things out of nature’s bounty over the years, and one of the best representations of their artsy innovation is the mother-of-pearl inlay workmanship.
The inlay craftsmanship, together with a dozen other folk crafts native to Zhoushan, are collectively known as Zhoushan shell-carving art, the beauty of which has spread to reach the entire costal regions of China, and has even been shared with people in South East Asia and those who reside far away in the cities and towns of distant Europe.
The fishing farms located in Zhoushan territory have long enjoyed a reputation for their huge yield of large yellow croakers - especially in the spring flood season. Interestingly, the large quantity of jelly produced by the drying process of the spring catch contributes to the unique Zhoushan inlay craftsmanship as a superior adhesive substance.
The development of the region’s inlay craftsmanship has always been closely related to the lacquerwork of ancient China, which explains the fact that most of the shellcarving and inlay artists and inheritors - such as Ji Weiquan and Wei Baoyou – are also lacquer masters.
The shell-carving art of Zhoushan falls into three functional categories – for furniture decoration, for ornamentation on jewellery boxes and ink-stone cases, and for pure appreciation of the beauty of the art itself.
The mother-of-pearl inlay culture of Zhoushan has a history dating back about 200 years, with its heyday falling around the late Qing and early Republican Period of China.
Born in a small fishing village in Dinghai in 1945, Xia Yuzhui got his aesthetic enlightenment from his embroider mother and art-loving father. As the only source of male labour in the family, Xia Yuzhui left school at a young age to hone his skills and has since worked as a furniture ornamenter. He joined the Zhoushan Arts and Crafts Research Panel in 1973 and was sworn in two years later as the director of the core team of the shell-carving department of Zhoushan Arts and Crafts Factory, where the man found himself in his element. Throughout the 1970-80s, it was the man’s adept hands and unwavering dedication that brought the mother-of-pearl inlay craftsmanship back into Zhoushan’s cultural pantheon.
To protect the cultural pride of Dinghai from falling into the abyss, the Dinghai government financed a special apprenticeship project for Xia Yuzhui, designed to help him find the right successor to which he could impart his knowledge of the endangered craft. His first successful disciple is Xia Hailing, whose award-winning inlay works show that he may just have has what it takes to keep Xia’s pearly dream alive for future generations to enjoy.
The large quantity of jelly produced by the drying process of the spring catch contributes to the unique Zhoushan inlay craftsmanship as a superior adhesive substance.