Sun Deren is one of the youngest artisans in Chinese bamboo root carving in Xiangshan County, Ningbo. The 33-year-old craftsman spent two years carving 108 warriors based on the Chinese classic novel “Water Margin,” which won him the Liu Kaiqu prize given by Chinese Root Carving Artists Association, the top award in the field of root carving in China.
Bamboo, which is always erect and has a strong resilience with a plain appearance, is the symbol of junzi, a Chinese term for an ideal man who is both self-disciplined and modest. Ancient Chinese loved to have bamboo wares such as pen containers, signets and writing brushes to go with their studies. The bamboo roots are more suitable for carving as they are 2 or 3 centimeters thicker than the bamboo above the ground.
“The 108 warriors of ‘Water Margin,’ featuring ruggedly handsome and bullheaded perseverance, are in accordance with the bamboo root with coarse and uneven joints and wild texture. Most of my time was spent on brainstorming to match the style of each warrior with the structure of each root,” Sun said, explaining his award-winning work.
The craft of Chinese bamboo root carving has a long history that can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when it was especially popular in Jiading District in Shanghai and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province. Traditionally, there are two schools of carving, namely Jiading School featuring subtlety and delicacy, and Jinling (Nanjing’s old name) School that is wild and natural.
The traditional craft still thrives in places like Huangshan in Anhui Province, Dongyang in Zhejiang Province and also Xiangshan County in Ningbo.
The carvings in Huangshan essentially feature many pen containers while those in Dongyang are for decoration, Sun said.
“The bamboo root carving in Xiangshan has original structure and texture of roots. It’s better to carve as less part as possible, keeping the most natural structure of the roots,” Sun explained.
Xiangshan was declared “the town of folk bamboo root carving” in 1996 by China’s Ministry of Culture.
The traditional craft is now an intangible cultural heritage in Zhejiang Province.
Sun works from his home in Sunjia Village, Qiangtou Town in Xiangshan County. He lives a quiet life as he prefers to have more time to himself for his art and learning. He loves reading Chinese traditional stories such as “Water Margin” which gives him ideas for his work.