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December 11, 2010

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

A trio of traditional Yangpu artforms

FROM a rarely practiced style of martial arts to creative handicrafts with an illustrious history, Fei Lai discovers three traditional art forms hopefully to be included on Yangpu's list of intangible cultural heritage.

In Yangpu District, living cultural heritage is rich and diverse. Many folk artists, local organizations and communities are engaged in the urgent work of preserving and promoting the district's distinct intangible cultural heritages.

With a growing awareness to protect living heritages, several practices including fabric painting, Shanghai Languifang mian quan and Yangshupu Dragon Lantern are applying to be considered for the district's intangible cultural heritage list.

These arts not only tell stories about the development of Yangpu, but also reflect the society's rising concern for a thriving cultural life.

Fabric painting

Fabric painting is a craft all about fun, color and enjoyment.

Folk artist Wang Lixin from Yangpu District is now channeling her passion into creating unique products and bringing the magic of fabric painting to communities.

In her 80s, Wang gives fabric painting lessons at the University for the Aged, a community school for the senior people, in the Siping Road community.

With a focus on flowers and birds, her work is highlighted by vibrant color and elaborate design.

With a history of more than 1,000 years, the art of fabric painting dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was popular with imperial women. Later it prevailed among common folk.

"Joining varied quality fabrics including silk together, it is a handicraft combining painting skill and imagination," Wang said.

Wang showed an interest in all kinds of handicrafts in her teenage years. Although painting was her favorite hobby, it was not until after retirement that she started to dabble with fabric painting and spend most of her time researching the art.

As she is creative, Wang utilizes new materials such as acrylic fiber and self-dyed silks and satins to demonstrate simple cloth stickers with a three-dimensional look.

From design and draft, to cloth selection and color matching, Wang is meticulous at each step.

"I saw many people become idle at home after retiring, so I thought to myself that I could teach them and have more people engage in this art," Wang said. "I'm glad to teach at the University for the Aged and hopefully I can bring it to elementary and middle schools. The art should be inherited by children in order to guarantee its long-standing vitality."

Mian quan

Mian quan is literally known as "Cotton Fist." It is a martial arts style featuring a harmonious existence of "hardness and power" with "softness and fluidity."

Shanghai Languifang mian quan developed from ancient mian quan. According to its third-generation descendant Sun Zhonghui. The founder of mian quan was Meng Guangyin from Hebei Province.

During the Qing Dynasty, Meng was an armed escort, who later spent 17 years learning ancient mian quan from a Taoist at a remote mountain. Meng went to Shanghai to teach mian quan around 1920 and created his own style, becoming the master of Shanghai mian quan.

Sun's grandfather Sun Fuhai (1888-1956) fortunately became the one to whom Meng passed on all the essence of the martial art.

"At that time, my grandpa owned a grocery store on Maigen Road, which is today's Taixing Road. Meng lived upstairs. Seeing that my grandpa was true and sincere to every one, he was enrolled as Meng's apprentice," Sun said. "My grandpa spent eight years practicing. He used to live at Languifang in Yangpu's Yangshupu area, which is where the martial art got its name."

Today, the Shanghai Languifang mian quan Club has been established to promote its culture.

"Shanghai Languifang Mian Quan couples hardness with softness. The theory for this style is that defense becomes offense and that no attack will be acted until the opponent does first," Sun said.

"Among all categories of Chinese martial arts, this style is one rarely used. Since it is strict on selecting apprentices, it was not as popular as other styles of boxing. Shanghai Languifang mian quan is now facing a lack of successors to carry on the torch."

Dragon lantern

The dragon lantern is an essential element during the Chinese Lantern Festival. Originated from colored-lantern making, it has a history of more than 1,800 years.

Li Zheng, born in 1951 in Yangshupu, is an expert at making dragon lanterns.

Since Li's home is close to Bao'en Temple, which attracted a large number of pilgrims and was always decorated with lanterns during festivals, his childhood was full of lanterns of various shapes and colors.

"Yangshupu Dragon Lantern made its debut during the 1950s and reached its climax during the 1970s. The period marked the prosperous industrial development of the area," Li said.

"To showcase the fruit of development, almost all celebrations at that time were highlighted by dragon lanterns of a large size."

With a mastery of paper-cutting and sculpture skills, Li started to explore the handicraft of dragon lantern making 30 years ago.

His dedication has led to a series of masterpieces being displayed as part of the Shanghai Folk Art Exposition and Shanghai Folk Collection of Intangible Cultural Heritages as well as in New Zealand, Malaysia and the United States.

Normally, Li uses bamboo or iron wire to form the shape of the dragon first. After installing the lamp inside, fabrics of various colors are attached.

"The steps are simple, but it requires more attention when dealing with detailed designs," Li said. "Beginners can start by learning to make rabbit lanterns first."

Li said he is currently working on a big tropical fish and coral for Shanghai Aquarium.


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