Children learn old handicrafts at Spring Festival

Updated 2017-01-26 09:51:11 Xinhua

Sitting in front of a long table, Chang Yuanxin is holding red velvet sticks, preparing to make a "velvet flower."

Alongside the primary school girl, ten other pupils sit in the bungalow of a courtyard in a hutong in Beijing, each holding the same sticks made of thin copper wires, swathed in red colored silk.

Instead of having a handicraft lesson at school, the children are participating in an "intangible cultural heritage temple fair."

As one of the traditions of Lunar Chinese New Year, temple fairs feature acrobatics, song and dance, as well as the selling of snacks and souvenirs.

During Spring Festival, which falls on Jan. 28, a special temple fair will be held by a local intangible cultural heritage institute called "No. 93 Courtyard Museum," teaching children traditional handicrafts.

The one-week temple fair invited over 10 handicraftsmen to make handicrafts that were recognized as intangible cultural heritage at national or provincial level. Liu Xueping's "velvet flowers" are one of them.

Velvet flowers have existed in Beijing for hundreds of years and were used in Spring Festival in ancient times. Although Beijing used to be a main city for the production of velvet flowers, the custom of wearing velvet flowers is barely be found in the capital today.

"In the past, it was popular for people in Beijing to wear velvet flowers on their heads on festive days, including the Lunar New Year and weddings," Liu said.

Made with flexible copper wires and colorful silk, velvet products can be made in many forms, including birds, animals and different types of headwear. The handicraft is the only city-level intangible cultural heritage list by the government of Beijing in 2009.

As the daughter of an experienced velvet flower craftswoman, Liu, 47, has been familiar with the handicrafts since childhood. She also makes velvet flowers, together with her husband who became her mother's apprentice decades ago.

Yet their products are mainly sold for collection now, as velvet flowers are far away from people's lives and memories. Through the intangible cultural heritage temple fair, Liu was able to share this traditional handicraft with children.

Li Youyou, Chang Yuanxin's mother, registered her daughter for the activity after she saw it online, hoping for Chang to gain more knowledge of traditional customs.

"My daughter rarely gets in touch with traditional culture, so it is good for her to learn about this during her winter vacation," Li said.

Under Liu's guidance, Chang finally finished her work, a red accessory in the form of Chinese traditional cloud pattern, after nearly an hour's work.

Both the color and the cloud pattern were intentionally selected by Liu to convey a festival atmosphere.

"The cloud pattern is 'auspicious' in China, and bright red, which is also called 'Chinese red,' is a Chinese tradition," she said.

The process of making a velvet flower can be quite complicated. For the preparation, handicraftsmen need to design the pattern first, and then dye the silk before combining it with copper wire to make the velvet sticks.

To help with children's work, Liu's husband made the velvet sticks in advance, so the children only need to assemble the sticks and fold them into the final form.

Beside velvet flowers, traditional colored lamps, clay figures and other traditional handicrafts that are also dying out were introduced to children.

According to Sun Peng, an employee at the No. 93 Courtyard Museum, the museum opened to the public in 2014 and started organizing the temple fair from 2015, providing handicraft lessons as well as other traditional festival activities.

"More children have come to learn traditional handicrafts over the last two years, and some even participate in the activities every year," Sun said. "We hope to refresh people's memory of the past through these activities and enable more people to see traditional handicrafts."

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