Sidestepping the rush of modern life

Updated: 2013-09-05 07:54

By He Na and Hu Meidong (China Daily)

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The prosperous tea trade led to a population boom and the village expanded along both sides of the river, with many of the new houses doubling as storerooms.

However, the good times didn't last. The village's key role in river transport was replaced by five ports that the Qing Dynasty was forced to open to foreign traders in the wake of the first Opium War (1839-42).

There's very little business activity in Xiamei nowadays, just a few small grocery stores, some snack bars, a barbershop and a teahouse serve the 2,700 villagers.

Several old handicraft shops that have survived for more than a century are still open, but business declines year by year.

Yin Yantong, 52, is the only blacksmith in the Wuyishan area. Yin's handmade knives and farming implements are stronger and more durable than machine-made tools, a factor that provides a slim hope of survival in a highly industrialized world.

The shop's sign indicates two blacksmiths, but Yin has worked alone since poor health forced his wife to quit the trade last year.

Sidestepping the rush of modern life

Yin Yantong, 52, is the only blacksmith in the Wuyishan area. He has been plying his trade for more than three decades.

It takes Yin six hours to make a kitchen knife. He doesn't know how many times he hammers metal each day, but his right arm is clearly better developed and stronger than his left.

At work, Yin wears a large T-shirt, a straw hat and usually wraps an old towel around his neck to catch the sweat droplets that fall as he pumps the bellows to raise the temperature in the forge.

All the tools and equipment inside the 15-sq-m shop were passed down to Yin by his father. They are rusty and covered with thick black grime.

Yin works almost every day, the only exceptions being Lunar New Year or the occasions when his daughter and son return from university.

He earns about 2,000 yuan ($327) a month, but many people, including his children, are trying to persuade him to quit.

"It's a really hard job and every day after I close the shop, my hands shake when I use chopsticks," he said.

Yin has had several apprentices, but none has lasted the course. "I love the work and don't know what else I can do except hammer iron. I'll continue to smash away until the day I can't stand up anymore," he said.

Life is also hard for Zou Quanhui, 40, the owner of a small shop that sells traditional handmade cakes.

A number of plain plastic bags filled with small, round cakes were lying on a shelf in the 20-sq-m room. The sticky rice cake has a history of 200 years, and it's a local tradition that every family buys some during the holidays.

A skilled person can make 5 kilograms of cakes a day, but Zou and his mother, who is older than 70, bake just once a week because only the elderly villagers eat them now.

It's difficult to make a living selling cakes, so Zou also does odd jobs to bring in some extra cash.

"We once planned to close, but some elderly neighbors came and begged us to stay open because they liked the flavor of the cakes and couldn't find them anywhere else," he said. "My mother cried, and so the shop is still open. But, with the old people passing away gradually, we will close sooner or later."