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Independent designers in Guizhou practice traditional crafts


12-02-2016 01:35 BJT

Hong Kong-based designer Elaine Ng is working to breathe new life into traditional Chinese crafts.  She and other designers are hoping to preserve and promote the skills of rural artists in China's south-central Guizhou Province.

Artist Pan Xiu-ying painstakingly traces an intricate design onto a white cloth. She dips a brass-tipped tool into a vat of liquid wax to complete the work.

At her workshop in a remote valley in one of China's poorest provinces, Pan uses traditional techniques passed down for generations to create an indigo-dye batik scarf embellished with patterns inspired by ethnic Shui culture.

But her handicrafts aren't for family members. They're destined for affluent buyers thousands of miles away.

Pan, 47, learned how to make batik scarves from her grandmother. She says there is little interest among young people, including her own daughter, to learn the craft.

"Young people don't want to learn how to do it. They want to go to Guangdong," said Pan Xiu-ying.

Pan's employer, Hong Kong-based designer Elaine Ng, is working to breathe new life into traditional crafts practiced by minority tribes in the isolated villages of south-central Guizhou province.

She is among a group of designers focused on ecological and cultural sustainability, who hope to preserve the skills of rural artisans.

"During my research I found only 10 percent of these skills get passed down to the next generation. The biggest reason is because most of the younger generation or my generation don't feel inspired to learn the craft, because it's not going to give them the type of living they would like to have. They want smartphones, they want to live in the city," said Elaine Ng.

Ng hopes her project, Unfold Guizhou, can help keep traditions from fading as young people continue to leave villages for easier and better paying jobs in distant cities.

This fall, she sold a limited edition of scarves, squat wooden stools and hexagonal wooden wall tiles decorated with batik patterns. She's also working with a Shanghai company to create custom furniture that incorporates locally made fabrics and woodwork.

Guizhou's rich culture and ethnic diversity is attracting independent designers to the region, and helping to grow the local economy. Guizhou experienced 10.5 percent economic growth in the first half of 2016, the third fastest rate in China.

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