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Model life ignored for years

CHEN Shoucheng, an 87-year-old local, has devoted his life to Chinese boats - making models of them, researching their cultural significance and writing about their history.

Standing among a number of models he had made, Chen's smile showed how proud he was of his handmade ships.

"People used to deem them worthless toys," he said.

Born into a wealthy family, Chen studied law at Shanghai Jiao Tong University but developed a keen interest in ships from the toy models and related books his father bought him.

Chen became an engineer in the shipbuilding faculty at the university after graduating in the 1950s and was engaged in research and making ship models.

The models he made - oil tankers, destroyers, cruisers and submarines - became vivid teaching materials for schools, the armed forces and research institutes.

But he suffered great humiliation because of his family background during the "culture revolution" period (1966-76) and his artworks were despised and ignored by people for a long time.

His contribution was not recognized again until his model of a Song-dynasty boat won him a prestigious award in Belgium in 1982. He devoted all his time and energy to researching ancient ship models in the 1980s after his retirement.

"Many Westerners and Japanese scholars were crazy about the ship models I made. I don't know how but some of them even found my house and came to ask me to sell my ship models and the other material I had collected," he said.

In addition to the hundreds of contemporary models Chen has made, he has also crafted more than 20 exquisite ancient Chinese boat models from Chinese pine, bamboo and other woods.

Many are displayed in domestic and international museums and eight are kept at his home.

Each boat took him at least half a year to make and is the result of hours of research as they are all historically accurate.

Chen started to compile books based on his research in the late 1990s, when his age no longer allowed him to work on his models. Three books featuring his lifelong efforts are due to be published over the next few months.


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