Hou Shouqin makes sugar figures [Jianghuai Morning News/Su Yifan]
A woman from east China's Anhui Province has been trying to keep the tradition of making sugar figures alive.
The traditional folk art is said to have a history of more than 600 years. By kneading, pulling, and blowing, Hou Shouqin turns pieces of melted sugar into different shapes of animals, much like glassblowers in the West.
The seemingly magical technique always attracts a number of children and adults as crowds gather to watch the show at her stand in the province's capital, Hefei.
Hou's exciting craftsmanship has to been attributed to her persistence in painstaking practice. "My maternal grandfather was first to make sugar figures in my family. He travelled from street to street to sell the figures or trade them for other things," said Hou.
Hou's father learned the skill later and in several years, he earned some extra money to make family ends meet. However, since she has grown older, her family has dropped the craft as it is "impossible to make a living."
In Hou's view, nowadays not as many people are able to make sugar figures but she is not willing to give up the craft. With some of her savings, she purchased tools used for the craftsmanship and spent her weekends practicing.
In the beginning, she was unable to control the temperature of heated sugar properly. Handling the sugary material always scalded her hands. "It's all about speed. For a long time, when I made two front legs of an animal-shaped sugar, it was already too cool to make other parts," said Hou.
It took her nearly two years to master the technique. However, the more difficult part is to promote the methodology.
"There are few places that set up stands in the neighborhood and few agencies are committed to the promotion of traditional craftsmanship," said Hou.
Working as a full-time employee at a local company, Hou usually goes to parks to show the making of sugar figures at weekends.
Each time her husband has to carry all the tools to the parks. Though it is exhausting, Hou enjoys the pleasure she brings to children and revisiting the memory of watching her father make sugar figures.
Currently, Hou is preparing materials to apply for the title of inheritor of the national intangible cultural heritage. She is also seeking ways to give more people opportunities to learn about it.
And Hou is optimistic about the future of the art. "I just don't want the art to die out in our generation, and I believe new forms and features will evolve," she said.
So far, Hou has made over 2,000 sugar figures.