By Huang Yongxian
SHIJIAZHUANG, Jan. 22 (NsNewsWire) — For nearly 50 years, Zhao Yuming has been immersed in his own world of clay figurines. At age 62, Zhao is the only remaining clay sculpture master craftsman in Laoting County, Hebei Province, reports Xinhua.
FIVE HUNDRED YEAR HISTORY
Clay sculpture is one of the main traditional crafts in Laoting. For Zhao, becoming a master of intangible cultural heritage is not only an honor, but at the same time a responsibility and a source of pressure.
Zhao can get financial support from the government, but he must personally teach the next generation to avoid the loss of this traditional art.
Laoting clay sculpture has a nearly 500-year history.
“If we do not pass it on, we will do a disservice to our country. Inheriting the skills, honoring ourselves and repaying the country is the best option,” Zhao said.
In ancient times, Laoting clay figurines were mainly children’s toys made by rural artisans. But in the 1930s, folk art, such as drum operas and shadow play, provided another use for figurines that exhibited decorative or collection value, which became known as “literary clay figurines.”
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there were several workshops in villages in Laoting County and the production reached a high level, but the prices were too low. Clay figurines were sold for just a few pennies each.
Nevertheless, for a long period, many clay artists relied on making and selling clay figurines at those meager prices to make ends meet.
Until the end of the last century, the clay figurines were the only toys of many Chinese children. At that time, even children living in cities had few toys, let alone those in rural areas.
In the past 10 years, China has become the second largest economy in the world and is now a significant toy production and consumption market. Shopping malls are full of high end toys, so the rustic Laoting clay figurines have gradually fallen out of favor.
However, some craftsmen, like Zhao, have chosen to continue the tradition. He said that although his children have other jobs to feed their families, he still wants to pass on his skills to them and his grandchildren.
Facing a demand for sustained economic development, many regions are increasingly attaching importance to the protection and inheritance of valuable traditional cultural skills, so as to promote the development of local economies and contribute to the goal of building “a beautiful China.”
REVIVAL IN A NEW ERA
Shi Tinghong, director of the Laoting Cultural Heritage Center, said that the government has encouraged the elderly to pass on traditional skills as much as they can.
Supportive policies include subsidies, encouraging folk artists to produce more products and organize more performances for local residents, and granting “Master of Intangible Cultural Heritage” certificates at national, provincial and local levels.
Shi said that the government will also step up efforts to protect and support Laoting clay figurines, and continue to develop and innovate on the basis of preserving its artistic features and combining them with modern aesthetic needs, so that this craft can better reflect the characteristics of the times and retain its beautiful nostalgia.
With the support of the government, local craftsmen have begun to pay more attention to passing on their skills. In some families parents are actively encouraging their children to pick up the craft they had given up many years ago.
Thirty-one-year-old Dong Zhuangzhuang was born into a family of craftsmen in Laoting. From his grandfather’s generation, the Dongs have been renowned clay artists.
Dong has been influenced by his family since he was a child, and it is not a surprise that as an adult he has continued the tradition. However, after graduating from the sculpture department of Langfang Teachers College in 2008, Dong spent some years working in other regions, without a clear plan for his life.