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Tourism preserves ancient handicrafts in Hunan

CNTV, April 22, 2015
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The locals say that every town in Hunan has something unique for tourists to see. That includes shadow-puppet plays, porcelain, ancient stone bridges, delicious fish dishes and more. These may not appear on the intangible cultural heritage list, but they're bringing in the tourists.

Shadow-puppet plays have been popular in Hunan since the Qing Dynasty, more than 3 centuries ago, when most puppeteers put on shows at market fairs or performed door to door.

But in recent decades, young people have flocked to coastal cities to look for work. Few seem interested in watching the traditional shows now.

Zhu Guoqiang was born into a family of shadow-puppet masters. He's also the manager of Hunan's first Shadow-Puppet Art Museum, a favorite tourist destination. And that's given him a chance to perform regularly.

Zhu Guoqiang, shadow of puppet master, said, "It's a win-win situation for all. Tourists enjoy my shows, and I get to exhibit my family's puppet collection to every one."

Hundreds of years ago, Jinggang Town used to be one the most popular ports along the Xiangjiang River. Since 2006, the local government has invested heavily in tourism to bring back the glory days. Star attractions are ancient handicrafts, snacks and Hunan's very own Flower-drum opera.

Not far away is Tongguan Town, "the capital of porcelain" in the Tang Dynasty. Tongguan Porcelain has always been highly valued by overseas collectors, but it didn't bring much profit to Tongguan in the past centuries. The town has taken a tip from Europe. It's set up porcelain artists' quarter, providing rooms for creativity, as well as a collective marketing strategy.

Peng Wangqiu, a porcelain designer, said, "I think people would love to see something new and unconventional in porcelain designing nowadays. So I blend my knowledge of western paintings in my works. It's turned out to be very popular."

The porcelain industry now brings in a hundred million yuan to Tongguan each year. Even better, the town is now on Hunan's hottest tourist route, along with Jinggang.

And as long as visitors come, the ancient arts and handicrafts are safe and sound.

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