Meet a Beijing master of intangible cultural heritage

Updated 2018-07-26 11:20:01

Wang Guanqin introduces her collection of handcrafted Chinese embroidered shoes to visitors in Beijing on July 21, 2018. [Photo by Wang Qiao/]

Ten enthusiasts of traditional Chinese embroidery worked under the wing of embroidered shoe-making master Wang Guanqin in Beijing on July 21.

As participants in the intangible cultural heritage experience program of Great Seed, a global community for enthusiasts of intangible cultural heritage, they learned about and experienced this heritage through close talks with inheritors or masters, and from hands-on experience.

During their talks with the 79-year-old master, who has been engaged in this craft most of her life, the participants were fascinated with the embroidered shoes. They tried to make the soles and uppers of the shoes themselves under her professional guidance, and learned about the cultural connotation and history of making embroidered shoes.

Chinese zodiac embroidered shoes by Wang Guanqin reflect the sign of the rat, July 21, 2018. [Photo by Wang Qiao/]

"I've always been crazy about embroidered shoe-making, but there are few people who could do this kind of craft nowadays. For me, it's a great chance to learn," said Cheng Guiqi, a student majoring in directing from Beijing Union University.

According to Wang Guanqin, her enthusiasm for the craft came from her family's longtime affinity for the sophisticated technique, which began as early as with her great-grandmother.

Unlike embroidered shoes sold on the market, which are made by machine, Wang insists on designing and making shoes with her own hands.

"Each of my shoes is like a daughter," Wang said. "It's never about just making a pair of shoes. It's the cultural connotations that make each shoe unique and precious."

The Year of the Ox is represented in this pair of Chinese embroidered shoes by Wang Guanqin, July 21, 2018. [Photo by Wang Qiao/]

Her inspiration for different designs is often drawn from historical research based on Chinese literature and ancient traditional culture. One fine example is Wang's famous series of shoes featuring the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

She made a series of zodiac-themed shoes. For the ox, niu in Mandarin, the embroidery features morning glories, known as qianniu hua in Mandarin. She uses grass flowers for the horse and carrot flowers for the rabbit.

"Pigs made by machines often appear in an exaggerated way, but mine are happy pigs. No matter what angle, the pigs seem to be smiling," Wang said.

"Shoes are soulless without a cultural connotation" said Wang, who has done detailed research through continuous and thorough studies that manifest the culture of shoes in different dynasties of Chinese history.

A coiled snake from the Chinese zodiac rises from the toes of a pair of embroidered shoes made by Wang Guanqin, July 21, 2018. [Photo by Wang Qiao/]

In 2007, Wang's handmade embroidered shoes and her skills were placed on Beijing's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. She is said to be the premier figure in Chinese embroidered shoemaking.

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