A university in eastern China known for producing aircraft technicians has introduced an embroidery class, aiming to inspire more students to learn about traditional culture.
Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics launched the five-week course for a maximum of 50 students in late March with the help of Zhao Hongyu, a master in classic embroidery.
Zhao said she was initially surprised that more than a third of the students who signed up for the classes were male.
"In China, embroidery has generally been considered exclusive to women," she said. "I was glad when I first entered the classroom, and I was wondering how their work might turn out."
One standout, Zhao said, was a student who embroidered Albert Einstein's equations into a piece of cloth.
"He said he wanted to combine the beauty of engineering with traditional handicrafts," she said. "It shows there's no difference between men and women in the ability to develop embroidery skills. Both can finish complex works," she added.
He Zifan, a freshman who studies airworthiness technology, said he signed up for the embroidery class out of curiosity, but his interest increased as he learned more about the traditional handicraft.
"I gradually noticed that I cannot embroider well, and I even prick my fingers sometimes if I'm in an bad mood," he said. "It helps me to relax. I'm at peace when I'm embroidering."
Wang Zheng, who majors in automation, explained why he chose the course without hesitation: "I have great interest in learning traditional Chinese culture. Precious traditional techniques should be inherited by young generations."
Under Zhao's guidance, he said, he was able to embroider a flower pattern that requires various stitching skills.
Li Jiaying, an industrial design major, said he sought inspiration through learning other forms of design, and embroidery brings fun when piles of textbooks get boring.
To guarantee the quality of teaching, the class is restricted to 50 students, with instruction taking place one hour a week for five weeks.
Zhao started off as an apprentice more than 40 years ago before working her way up and developing her own stitching styles, including a technique in which she divides a silk thread into 70 to 80 pieces to get thinner threads to embroider more delicately.
"Teaching it at a university is not about passing on stitching skills. It's about attracting more young people to appreciate our traditional culture," she said. "I'm glad that it's still welcomed by many young people."
Lu Manman, an art teacher at the university, said that besides embroidery the university has also attempted to introduce paper-cutting and Kunqu Opera to its students.
"We invited experts and artists to give lectures and performances, but they didn't attract many students," she said.
Lu said the university will continue to offer traditional cultural courses and find more effective ways to interest the youth.