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Ancient Crafts, Modern World

Pub Date: 11-11-18 10:53 Source: www.china.org.cn

This is Zhang Qingjie. In the city of Wuhu in Anhui Province, he makes a special kind of artwork, known in Chinese as tiehua, or Iron Paintings. From afar, you can understand the name. But up close, you can see they are not paintings at all. 

According to local legend, a traveling blacksmith named Tang Tianchi invented the wrought iron picture technique when a painter that he admired teased him by saying, "You will never make paintings by beating iron!"

But with the rapidly changing economy in modern China, this art form could soon become a lost treasure of the past.

Iron Painting isn't the only ancient craft in Anhui Province.

A few hours by bus will take you to a small workshop in a town called Xuancheng that makes paper the old-fashioned way. The Chinese people invented paper. This kind of paper is called xuanzhi.

First, tree bark and stems are dried on the hills that surround the workshop at the hills' foot. This will later be separated by quality and grade - only the best bark will be chosen.

Second, pulp is made by pulverizing tree bark with large, wooden hammers. Tree bark is beaten repeatedly until it is broken down into a moldable base with which to make the paper.

Afterwards, the pulp is washed in water in order to further break it down into useable fibers. This is still done by hand and is very tiring. The water creates a drag force which pulls apart the fibers, but it also is very straining on the muscles.

Next, the pulp is mixed into water to make a soupy, porridge-like mixture. A sheet of bamboo allows water to sluice through while keeping the pulp on top. A worker will slide the bamboo sheet through the water and then tilt it in such a way that the mixture will run down the sheet and back into the mixture, leaving an even coating of pulp on the sheet as the water drains through.

Finally, the sheets will be peeled off the bamboo after drying, and placed onto heated slabs of metal to cook out any remaining water and harden the pulp sheets into paper. Even though this process sounds rough and course, the quality of the paper is really extraordinary. It looks like the finest paper used for calligraphy – thick, solid white, durable and strong.

In fact, this workshop is famous throughout all of China. So famous, that this worker, Wang Shiba, even participated in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, performing his paper-making skills.

China obviously places great importance on its folk art national history. However, the reality of the job market could force workers out of these crafts if protections or economic securities are not put into place.

Editor: will

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