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Ma Rong's artwork for China's paper money


05-02-2016 17:56 BJT

Engraving images for paper currency is perhaps the most painstaking form there is. And there is no room for error. China’s foremost engraver, Ma Rong created the new version of the 100-yuan note.

Ma Rong

Ma Rong

“The most important thing is to portray the image of a person and his spirit. In addition, the sense of space and the texture—all of these can only be created through dots and lines,” Ma said.

Ma says once a line is mistakenly carved, there is no way to erase it. So it has to be done precisely in one go.

“At first, no-one can do this job, because it requires one to totally calm down his heart. So I give them a glass of water, let them look at it, and say ‘Only when your heart is peaceful like this glass of water, can you say you are ready to take on this job,’” said Zhao Yayun, Ma’s master.

Ma says in this state of mind, everything around you disappears, so that the entire focus is the beauty and precision of the engraving.

“Your hand must be relaxed then you can move it freely, then you can create beautiful and precise lines,” Ma said.

When she engraved Mao Zedong for the 20-yuan denomination of paper currency, she completed two versions, and finally chose the one with more life-like eyes. Since then, her work has been used on the 50, 20, and 10-yuan notes.

“She must have practiced a lot before she could engrave the image of Chairman Mao. This is a very demanding job that very few dare to try,” Zhao said.

Ma checked many documents and sorted them into different notebooks to facilitate her job. Now, however, she is engraving with the help of a computer.

“The newly issued 100-yuan note was engraved with the help of computer technology. But the essence of portraying a person's image is still the same,” Ma said.

Ma also explains how to tell real currency from fake—by touching and feeling the texture of the portrait’s clothes.

There are only slightly more than a dozen people in China now engaged as engravers for paper currency. Ma is China’s fourth generation of artists in the field. Now, she is fostering the fifth generation.

For her, currency notes are not just money to buy merchandise but works of art that convey culture. After all, China is the birthplace of engravure printing.

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