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District preserves ancient art of carving beautiful bamboo

Jiading bamboo carving is one of China's most treasured arts and crafts, prized by the literati, and dating back more than 600 years. Today the district is preserving and promoting the ancient skill. Victoria Fei reports.

Bamboo is one of the most potent symbols in Chinese culture, representing longevity, durability and flexibility and it has long been associated with moral integrity.

Thus, the art of carving bamboo has been especially treasured by the literati, as it incorporates calligraphy, painting, poetry, literature and seal-cutting. Many people collect fine works of bamboo carving.

Jiading was famous for its bamboo carving and its history goes back at least 600 years to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Multi-faceted Jiading carving is China's largest school and it was one of the most important, along with Baoqing in Hunan Province.

Today Jiading District is preserving and promoting the ancient art, through an association, classes, a museum and various activities.

While some artists use paint brushes, bamboo carvers use knives and other tools to engrave and carve bamboo tubes and burls. They can be statues, landscapes, pictures, ornaments, holders for pens and paint brushes (especially favored by literati), bowls and numerous other objects.

Jiang Yuming, 42, has been practicing bamboo carving for more than a decade. The Jiading native refers to his works as objects that can communicate.

"At first sight, bamboo carving seems to be accomplished by skills, but it is actually done by the heart," Jiang says. "Only a pure heart without impulsive desires can create works with profound meaning."

Jiang has been awarded numerous national awards for his work. He does not wish to put his skills to commercial use.

"It would be too much trouble to worry about the market. I want to focus all my energy on carving," he says. "If I don't do it now, I will regret it when I am over 50 and my eyesight fails."

Between the late 16th century and the early 20th century, the district was the country's bamboo carving center.

Techniques include shallow carving, deep carving, characters in relief, carving in high or low relief, fretwork and sculpture. They integrate traditional landscapes, calligraphy, poetry and seal carving.

Bamboo carving's earliest and most famous practitioner was Zhu He, a poet, painter and seal-cutting master in the Ming Dynasty. He lived during the reigns of emperors Zhengde and Jiaqing.

He used a deep-carving technique featuring fretwork and deep relief.

His son, Zhu Ying, carried on the tradition and was a skilled calligrapher and painter. He was famous for his Buddha images, all well-conceived and elaborately executed. His work was considered even richer than his father's.

His own son, Zhu Zhizheng, was also a bamboo carver whose works were known for simplicity and elegance, as well as elaboration. His fame surpassed that of his father and grandfather.

The three generations established basic styles for Jiading bamboo carving.

"For years, the people of Jiading continued to inherit their ancestors' skills," says Jiang. "Those masterpieces have been preserved in museums around the world."

Four years ago, Jiading Bamboo Carving Association was established to honor artists and nurture talent. Today it has 60 individual members and 20 group members who exchange experience with each other and other carvers nationwide.

The association supports new aspects of the art and has set up training centers.

Since 2006, more than 200 people have taken classes, mostly elementary and middle school teachers who pass on their skills and enthusiasm to their students.

Hobby groups are formed in schools, texts on bamboo carving are given to students and their works are exhibited.

To learn more about bamboo carving, visitors can go to the Jiading Bamboo Carving Museum at the Zhouqiao historical and cultural scenic spot.


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