Chinese Arts & Crafts

Chinese Arts & Crafts

Monday, August 4, 2014

Big Announcement! Wuxi Clay Figurines Esty Shop now open!

Do you remember a while ago I posted about a young couple who owns a workshop in Wuxi? To refresh your memory you can read the post here.
Last month we have been working together to help them open a shop on Etsy to sell their creations worldwide.
It`s been a very busy month, but as of today I am proud to announce that Wuxi Clay Figurines Shop is now open!! We are finally bringing the items that you’ve seen in our blog to all of you!!
WHY? Recently we had some blog readers telling us they`d like to purchase some of the items introduced on our blog and, after debating what would be the best and easiest way to offer the handcrafted items to you, we decided to open an Etsy shop, which is really a great site to find all kinds of unique, handcrafted goods. 
So where can you find the shop to browse and purchase the craft item introduced on this blog? 
The shop is located at this address:
You can also find a clickable button to the shop in my sidebar right here on this blog.
If you could visit our new shop and favorite us, that would be awesome!
And because we want to thank all our friends for encouraging us we`re offering a special discount code to celebrate the opening of the shop!
Use discount code OPENINGPROMOTION to receive 10% off your order!
For now we’ll be selling only a few items, but we are looking to expand the shop in coming months and would love your input of what other items you would like to see! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ke’ai Love

If you traveled to China you probably noticed that Chinese love adorable and sweet things such as cute characters or designs. The obsession with cute is actually not only Chinese, but more in general it`s an East Asian phenomenon, and not just young girls, but adults too, are affected.
The Chinese term for cute is “ke’ai” (可爱), which literally means “lovable” or “adorable”, and is used to describe anything that is diminutive, for example, all children can be described as ke`ai, as well as small animals and inanimate objects. The innocence of childhood and small creatures certainly has a beauty of its own. Perhaps ke`ai is so popular because people yearn for a return to those days of sweet innocence.

Looking at ancient arts and crafts objects I came to believe that the Chinese people`s fondness for ke’ai it`s not only a 21st century fashion trend, but it has a very long history.
Porcelain, paper cuts, carvings, embroideries, woodblock prints, cute dolls... For thousands of years the ancestors of today's Chinese created fine art forms, many adorably small in size and perfect in every detail.

Here’s my small collection of ke`ai craft objects gathered browsing museums and crafts shops, enjoy!

A world in miniature
The pictures below show the details of an ivory carving depicting one of the most famous Chinese love story "The Romance of The West Chamber", displayed at the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum.

The beauty of youth and innocence

Boys playing on turtle - wood carving

Boys playing - wood carving

Boys playing with fireworks - detail of porcelain vase

Little girl wearing a tiger hat and holding a red lantern
Wuxi clay figurine

Round is cute

Chinese Buddhist deities are often depicted as a laughing (bald) man with a largely exposed belly to symbolize happiness and good luck.

Laughing Buddha - Jade Carving
Eight Gods of Wealth - Olive Pit Carving

Da A Fu, deities guardians of Huishan - Wuxi Clay Figurines

The charm of animals

Little chicks - embroidery

Rabbits - painted wall scroll

Frog on a lotus flower - Clay pot

Tiger Hats, traditionally worn by children as protection from evil

Chick breaking through eggshell - Jade Carving

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Collaboration with Chinese HSK Application

We are excited to announce that China Hidden Crafts will collaborate with the successful Chinese learning application Chinese HSK!!!
Our posts about Chinese arts and crafts will be featured in the Level 1 app, under the level 1 lessons list.
If you are studying Chinese and are planning to take the HSK test, or you just want to expand your vocabulary, I definitely recommend you this application, which at the moment is available for Android in 6 different languages (English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish) and different levels.

To learn more about this application you can visit

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Banyao - The Singing kite

Have you ever heard a kite singing? Today I`d like to introduce you the Nantong whistling kite, also known as “Banyao” (板鹞), which means board snipe, or board kite, a magnificent and spectacular kind of kite which is used as musical instrument.

The kite is something children all over the world play with, but it wasn`t always a toy. 
According to some sources kites were invented in China over 2000 years ago; some ancient book records that the master craftsman Gongshu Ban and the thinker Mozi had both made something called "wooden hawk", and later on it was said that general Han Xin made "paper hawks" in the first years of Han Dynasty. However, according to more reliable sources, the kite originated during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 AD). At that time it was named "paper crow" or "paper owl" and it was used  for military purposes, correspondence, measurements, etc.
In the Tang dynasty paper started to be more widely used in everyday life and gradually replaced other more expensive materials in making kites, such as silk. Thanks to this kite-flying was popularized and quickly spread among common people. 
From Tang and Song Dynasties Chinese kites started to spread to the outer world, first to Asia and then to Europe, contributing greatly to global scientific and technological development. 

New Year Painting Ten Beauties flying kites

Nantong is home of the exquisite whistling kites; it`s situated in the east of Jangsu Province near the mouth of the Yangtze River, where the strong winds create ideal conditions for kite flying, especially in spring and autumn.
Although there are many famous kite production places such as Beijing, Tianjin and Weifan, Nantong whistling kites have a history of over one thousand years and are unique to the Nantong area.
What makes Nantong whistling kites so special is that anywhere between 100 and 300 whistles are attached to each kite (although some kites can have up to 1,000!!). Matching the whistle sizes and coordinating tones, kite makers aim to create harmonious and melodious sounds of different pitches which are often described as “Symphony on air” and can reach miles in distance.

As you can see from the pictures, in order to be able to fly and maintain stable such a large number of whistles, Nantong kites are much larger and heavier than other kites.
The pictures below are from the Nantong Whistle Board Kite Exhibition held at the Baoshan International Folk Art Exposition Center in Shanghai.

All Nantong kites feature a basic bamboo framing with paper, cloth or silk covering shaped in geometric patterns, and each section is hand painted with traditional designs.
The whistles are either cylindrical or orb shaped. The cylindrical pieces are made from bamboo, shaved down to a paper-like thinness to lighten weight and increase reverberation.
The orb-shaped whistles are made from gourds with carved wooden caps. Nantong kite artists cultivate a variety of gourds to make big and small whistles, the smallest can be only one centimeter in diameter, and the largest can reach up to 50 cm or even more.

Nantong kites come in many different styles and feature various patterns and decorations. Animals, such as hawks, sparrows, butterflies, are the main form adopted. Other styles represent the folk culture, and many decorations, such as golden fishes and chubby babies, have auspicious connotations.

In old times kites were flown as a way to send prayers to the gods, and, in particular, the loud sound made by the Nantong kite was believed to have the power to avert evil spirits in the sky and bring peace and harmony the whole year. 
The Nantong kite is also closely related to the local production. In the Nantong area many people work as fishermen, a profession particularly affected from changes in the weather conditions. In the past, when there was no weather forecast, it`s said that the fishermen relied on a kite to test the wind and decide whether to go out to the sea.

I leave you with a video of a Banyao flying. There is some background noise due to the strong wind, but you can hear clearly the loud and almost hypnotic humming of the kite!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Qipao: the history of a Chinese sartorial icon

If you watched Wong Kar-wai’s movie “In the Mood for Love”, Maggie Cheung`s exquisite wardrobe probably caught your eyes. Throughout the whole movie she wears an array of elegant qipaos, also called cheongsam, a one-piece garment consisting of a close-fitting dress with a high neck. Wong has said 20 to 25 qipao alone were made for her character alone.

This type of dress is usually referred to as qipao or cheongsam, the latter used more frequently in Western countries. The term cheongsam (長衫), meaning "long dress", entered the English vocabulary from Cantonese (the dialect of China's Guangdong Province), while in other parts of China it is known as qipao (旗袍).

The qipao as we know it today can be immediately recognized by anybody as a symbol representing Chinese culture and as an expression of Chinese identity, but what are its origins and how did it evolve to its current shape?

The qipao story is closely linked to the political background and cultural history of China, and its origin can be traced back to the Qinq Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty was founded by Manchu rulers, whose military and social structure was organized into "banners" (called “qi” in Mandarin). The Manchu people wore a one-piece dress which, likewise, came to be called qipao or "banner dress".
The early qipao looked very different, it didn't have the tight, figure-hugging shape the dress is known for today, but it came in the form of loose ankle length vest, worn on top of a long-sleeved blouse. It was later transformed into the gown with sleeves that became the prototype of the modern qipao.

Manchu gown, Hong Kong museum

Although the 1911 Revolution overturned the rule of the Qing Dynasty, the qipao survived the political change. In the 1920s and '30s the qipao became popular as a form of school uniform, and it also became a symbolic outfit for educated and emancipated women.

1930s advertising poster
In Shanghai, the traditional Manchu gown met Western tailoring and fashion, evolving into something completely different from its forebear. With the influence of Western dress styles, the qipao adopted a slimmer cutting, as well as new additions, such as the lotus collar, the Western flip collar, and the lotus sleeves. New fabrics and designs brought new life to traditional qipao, bringing  a new-found sense of freedom and modernity.  Between the 1930’s and early 1940’s the qipao became not only the quintessential fashion piece of Shanghainese women but also a symbol of the movement for women’s liberation

Author and critic Eileen Chang loved to wear qipao

Being one of the cultural symbols of the old China, during the communist uprising, and later during Cultural Revolution with the adoption of the unisex Maoist suit, the qipao almost totally disappeared on the Mainland. However, in other Chinese communities such as Hong Kong, the qipao survived and flourished, reaching the height of popularity during the 1950s and 1960s.
Later on as young people turned to more relaxed Western fashions, the qipao has been relegated to evening and formal wear for ceremonial occasions, until its recent comeback.

Qipao worn at the sun-ray ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
by the actress Zhang Ziyi, Nanjing Museum

In 2007 a salon dedicated to preserving the tradition of the qipao opened in Shanghai, where Shanghainese ladies gather together to learn how to dance sit, walk, behave and choose the right accessories to go with the dress. Initially, its members were mainly retirees, but lately, the salon has been attracting younger members. The picture below, from the salon`s website, shows its member during a gathering.

Today the qipao has become a source of inspiration for both Chinese and Western fashion designers, but it`s not common to spot it in everyday life, outside the high-end fashion shows.

I love the qipao`s image of elegance and refined femininity, but unfortunately I don`t own any. When I look at the beautiful women in qipao starring Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046, or Ang Lee`s Lust, Caution, I can`t help feeling like I would be out of place wearing one. But maybe in a couple of years, when I`ll feel more “mature” I`ll be ready to go ahead and buy one on myself…

Tang Wei in Lust, Caution

Gong Li in 2046

Zhang Ziyi in 2046

Maggie Cheung, In the Mood for Love

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, In the Mood for Love

The movies` photos are sourced from IMBD.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bamboo Weaving Art

I think many of you have seen this rain hat made of bamboo and probably associate it with Chinese peasants. In China hand weaving hats from bamboo is an ancient folk art, and one of the first styles was precisely the round rain hat, which was later adopted by the Red Army during World War II, becoming known as the Red Army Hat.

In China the Bamboo Waving Art obviously doesn`t limit itself to rain hats. The product range is actually very wide, and items are classified according to their form and function. Some examples include baskets, trays, jars, boxes, cases, vases, folding screens, models of animals and figures, buildings, furniture, lamps and lanterns, bags, toys, fans and mats. Some are graceful pieces of art for decoration or enjoyment and some are indispensable commodities.

Artisan weaving an elephant

China is rich in bamboo resources and has a long history of using and planting bamboos. The history of bamboo weaves can be even traced back to the Neolithic Age (around 6000 BC). Many relics of bamboo weaves (mainly baskets and other appliances for food storage) were found in Zhejiang Province archaeological sites, showing that bamboo weaves were widely used by people at the time.

Nowadays Sichuan Province, Hunan and Hubei Provinces, as well as Zhejiang Province are well-known for their distinctive bamboo products and bamboo weaving products, some of which are highly decorative. The style of the products often varies according to place of production. For example animal models are characteristic of Shengxian in Zhejiang province, woven surrounds for porcelain articles are from Chengdu and famous fans come from Zigong, Sichuan Province.

Lampshade from Shengxian

The craft of bamboo weaving is passed on to the apprentice by the master and it`s said that the apprentices need at least three years to learn the craft. 

Through many complicated working procedures, bamboo is cut into strips and pieces of various widths, thicknesses, lengths and sizes, and then woven into different patterns with techniques that require considerable skill and experience. A piece of bamboo joint can be cut into more than twenty pieces and each piece has its own usage. Bamboo weaving is also very strict in terms of choosing the bamboo, different products must be made of bamboo in different growing period.

There are two kinds of bamboo splits used for weaving: bamboo threads, whose thickness and width are approximately equal, and bamboo strips, which are broad and extremely thin. 

Different kinds of bamboo splits and threads
Bamboo threads are mostly used for making articles such as baskets, boxes, bottles, jars and dolls, which are woven from the base upwards. After the base is finished the weaving continues spirally upwards. Bamboo strips are used for making bamboo mats and curtains, which are usually woven from the middle outwards to the borders and corners. Some products like lamps and hats are weaved over a mold.

Vase mold

Besides splitting, the bamboo goes through other procedures, for example, boiling is required to finalize the shape, soften the thin strips and avoid cracking. The strips also go through a plane to ensure the same thickness and through a conduit to ensure the same width. Finally, according to the design, there might be also procedures like dyeing, plating and polishing.

Unfortunately bamboo products have been mainly replaced by cheaper plastic and metal products, although in recent years bamboo baskets and many other bamboo weaves have gain back their popularity because of their environmentally friendly characteristics. Due to the fact that it regenerates very rapidly, bamboo is considered as a matter of fact a sustainable material and an incredibly durable alternative to our limited global supply of hardwood.

Bamboo weaves today have combined practical use and aesthetic functions, with many new products appearing. With nature becoming a dream for those people living in cities, holding a bamboo basket when going shopping might be a way of returning to a more natural life.

The pictures in this post were taken at DongFeng Bamboo Weaving Workshop in Zhejiang province, whose highly skilled artisans are renowned nationally and internationally. The owner of this workshop was awarded the title of National Bamboo Art Master and Zhejiang Arts and Crafts Master, and he`s one of the few remaining craftsman able to weave bamboo threads as thin as a human hair, creating amazing pieces of art.

Arts & Crafts