Gleaming with tradition

Updated: 2012-12-27 13:56

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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Gleaming with tradition

Li Chen, 12, concentrates on making a silver ornament at a recent Guizhou handicrafts exhibition in Beijing. Photos by Wang Jing / China Daily

Silver crafters in Guizhou province take great pride in their cultural heritage as they struggle to preserve a dying art, Zhang Yue reports.

For 41-year-old Li Zhengyun and his family, silver craftsmanship has been a traditional skill that was kept in the Li family.

"And even in the family, it only went to males," he adds.

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Members of Li's family stand out where they live in Kaili city, Guizhou province, for their skill at making exquisite silver ornaments by hand. It's a traditional skill made famous by the Miao ethnic group in Guizhou, and Miao women adorn themselves in silver ornaments and headdresses during grand festivals and celebrations.

With a silver string and a pencil, Li starts to twine a strand of silver on a pencil tip, creating the figure of a butterfly. "I do not even need to draw it on paper beforehand."

Li represents the family's ninth generation of masters at silver crafting, which is listed as one of China's intangible cultural heritages. Today, fewer local artisans are passing the skill to the next generation. In recent years, Li has been trying to teach anyone willing to learn.

"Most young people, especially males, prefer to go to cities and work as migrant workers to support their families," he says. "It brings faster and larger sums of money."

At a recent exhibition in Beijing featuring handicrafts from Guizhou, Li and his silver works attracted lots of attention.

"These decorations are special not only because they are elegant and tiny, but also because they are all purely handmade," says Wang Qi, a young customer who spent 200 yuan ($32) on a pair of silver earrings.

Also attracting attention from the crowd was Li's 12-year-old son, Li Chen, who was absorbed in making silver decorations while his father introduced their works to customers.

While the father picked up the skill at the age of 15, the son started to learn when he was 9.

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