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Intangible Cultural Heritages

China.org.cn, April 21, 2015
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Hunan Province has a long and rich history of exquisite intangible cultural heritage. The province has nearly 100 categories of folk arts and crafts in the fields of carving, metalworking, lacquer making, embroidery, jewelry making, ceramics and firework craftsmanship, some of which provide well-received goods for overseas markets.

Some crafts such as the Tujia ethnic group brocade work, Xiangxiu (Hunan embroidery) and chrysanthemum stone carving have exerted great influence both in China and abroad.

Tujia brocade

The Tujia ethnic group is one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Hunan Province. The brocade work that forms an essential part of the Tujia people's culture and daily life originated in the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC).

Tujia brocade is named "Xilan Kapu" in the language of the Tujia ethnic minority group. "Xilan" means bedcover and "kapu" means flower, so "Xilan Kapu" is a bedcover brocaded with flowers. The brocade is done in different colors for different occasions, and the scenes and symbols depicted in the works not only tell the stories of the ancient Tujia civilization, but also silently record the local people's customs and lifestyles.

Xiang Embroidery

Hunan's Xiang Embroidery is one of the four principal kinds of embroidery in China together with Su Embroidery from Jiangsu Province, Shu Embroidery from Sichuan Province and Yue Embroidery from Guangdong Province.

Archeologists have discovered finely embroidered silk items in Changsha Mawangdui Han Tombs (which date to some point between 202 BC and AD 220), indicating that the craft of Xiang Embroidery emerged more than 2,000 years ago.

Xiang Embroidery adopted the techniques used in traditional Chinese painting and the techniques of engraving and calligraphy to form its own unique style. The combination of these techniques produced a new and unique embroidery product, one that was double-sided and with different images and colors on each side of translucent chiffon, greatly raising the artistic value of the embroidery. The craft mainly makes use of threads made from pure silk, satin, transparent gauze and nylon.

The technique of Hunan Embroidery reached its peak by the end of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century.

Chrysanthemum Stone Carving

Chrysanthemum stone carving is a unique craft from the city of Liuyang in Hunan Province that is characterized by sophisticated craftsmanship. The carvings are all made of a mineral known as chrysanthemum stone which formed 200 million years ago. In 1915, a local chrysanthemum stone carving received a top prize at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition for its reflection of exquisite skills and ingenious conception.

The stones are often carved into various flower motifs, such as the bamboo chrysanthemum or the hydrangea nightshade chrysanthemum. Craftsmen carefully carve the stone to make full use of its original characteristics to create the petals and add leaves to form dozens of chrysanthemums.

Liling Under-glaze Colored Porcelain

Liling under-glaze colored porcelain has enjoyed a long reputation in China and throughout the world for its colorful hue, graceful artistic style, exquisite craftsmanship, plentiful varieties and wealth of unique designs. Liling, a county-level city in eastern Hunan, is home to an abundant deposit of porcelain clay, which makes it an ideal place for porcelain making.

The history of Liling porcelain started in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220) and has gone on for more than 1,700 years through the present day. Liling porcelain can be easily distinguished from other kinds of decorative porcelain by its lack of lead and acid resistance and its colorful yet not vulgar glazes. It has a crystal-clear, bright and smooth surface, is well-structured and has both simple and elegant shapes, decorations and patterns.

The decorations on Liling under-glaze colored porcelain are not limited to one type, and pieces are commonly painted with birds and flowers, landscapes, patterns and even calligraphy using a variety of techniques. The beautiful decorations of such porcelain are created by the splendid use of clean lines.

Flower-Drum Opera

Flower-Drum Opera, or Huaguxi in Chinese, is a form of Chinese opera that originated in Hunan during the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911). It originated from folk songs and gradually developed into its primary form, which is characterized by a female lead and a clown singing and dancing.

Flower-Drum Opera mainly depicts folk life and tells stories about productive labor, love, and family conflicts in over 400 traditional repertoires. The opera form's language is vivid and has distinctive local color. "Liu Hai Cuts Firewood," which tells the tale of a romance between a destitute young man and a "fox fairy," is a classic example of the art form.

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