Across China: Bamboo craftsman strives to revive Chinese traditional art

Updated: August 8, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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KUNMING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- From backpacks and fans to wind chimes, Zuo Yuwei can transform bamboo strips into a myriad of artworks with his magical hands.

Nestled in the Donglianhua Village of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan Province, Zuo's bamboo weaving workshop is a haven of creativity. His creations, ranging from durable everyday essentials to exquisitely patterned furniture adornments, entice a continuous flow of intrigued visitors.

"I can split bamboo into thin strips even with my eyes closed," said the 52-year-old Zuo, who has honed remarkable craftsmanship through decades of dedicated practice. With his hands extended, he proudly displayed the scars from countless cuts endured during his journey of mastery.

Born into a family of bamboo craftsmen, Zuo began learning bamboo weaving at the tender age of eight and eventually blossomed into a locally renowned artisan, celebrated for his remarkable skills.

In the 1980s, bamboo products were widely used by people across China as everyday objects. However, with the country's rapid industrialization, such products were gradually replaced by plastic items, forcing many craftsmen to abandon their bamboo craft and seek jobs in big cities.

Zuo was no exception. In the 1990s, he migrated to booming cities such as Shanghai and other places to pursue opportunities.

But, bamboo craft remained a nostalgic companion, occasionally tugging at his heartstrings. Whenever he saw handicrafts in art shops or passersby carrying bags he would find himself contemplating how to recreate those items using bamboo strips.

"The happiest thing in life is to do what you like," he said. Therefore, following two years of employment elsewhere, he returned to his native village and resumed his old profession. Blending modern elements with traditional artistry, he began crafting an array of items, including tea tables, fruit baskets, as well as calligraphy and painting scrolls using bamboo.

At the same time, Zuo realized that to develop the bamboo weaving industry, artisans must "huddle together for warmth." In 2010, he and five other craftsmen jointly established a bamboo craft cooperative, providing a unified sales channel for bamboo artisans and an integrated business model involving material preparation, production and sales. To date, the cooperative has involved 20 households in the village and attracted more than 50 apprentices from outside to come and learn the craft.

Embracing the surge of online shopping, Zuo adeptly ventured into selling the creations through social media platforms like WeChat and TikTok, and to his astonishment, the bamboo products garnered immense popularity, finding buyers across the country and even reaching international markets.

At present, the annual income for each member of the cooperative exceeds 100,000 yuan (about 13,900 U.S. dollars), while apprentices can earn over 80,000 yuan a year.

Zuo's bamboo creations have even attracted foreign guests to visit the store. He fondly remembers a student from an American university who purchased his handicrafts to showcase in the university's exhibition hall. "The works of a Chinese bamboo artisan in the depth of a mountain could go across the oceans and reach an American university. It is such an honor for me, and also a good thing for Chinese bamboo culture," Zuo said with pride.

To promote bamboo weaving art, he visits nearby schools from time to time and gifts his creations to the students.

Despite dedicating over 40 years to the art of bamboo craft, Zuo remains committed to daily practice, often extending well into midnight hours. "I find that I can create better products during the quietness of night when I am at peace," he said.

With deft fingers, Zuo skillfully demonstrated how to make a small basket. "The more you immerse yourself in bamboo weaving, the greater your sense of tranquility and composure grows," he said. "When I sit down to craft bamboo, I forget everything and get lost in the bamboo world."

Zuo Yuwei has a well-defined vision for his bamboo weaving career, placing paramount importance on innovation.

Last year, he made an attempt to incorporate traditional Chinese elements such as embroidery into his bamboo creations. "I designed that bag and it is particularly popular among customers," he said pointing at a bamboo bag.

Talking about his aspirations, Zuo said he hopes for the cooperative to continue expanding so it can "involve more people, particularly the elderly left behind in the village, and help them increase their income."Enditem

(Reporting by Li Yingying, Yan Meng, He Zihan, Xiao Ying, Yi Aizhu, Lei Jiangyue and Bai Xu)

Editor: Su Dan