Memory about sugar painting
Sugar painting plate handed down from grandparents (Photo provided by interviewee)
A lifelike swallow-shaped sugar painting
Li Mei making a sugar painting
A sugar swallow finished
CHONGQING (CQNEWS) -- According to Chongqing Evening News, Li Mei was very busy during the Spring Festival holiday this year.
During the holiday, the new historical and cultural area of Shancheng Lane met with the public. As the inheritor of “Longxing Li’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Sugar Painting”, she was invited to Shancheng Lane and set up a small sugar painting stall.
She occupied a marble slab and used a spoon and a ladle of sugar to make a sugar painting. The sugar painting in memory met with the public in the form of such “intangible cultural heritage goods” on the street.
Li Mei tried to use a spoonful of sugar to wake up the memories that seemed to have gone away - maybe it was the company of family members, or the childhood that had been forgotten, and the sweetness that was fading away...
A sugar painting master who is not like a sugar painting master
Dressed in a red Tang suit, Li Mei, 35 years old, was sketching lines with sugar syrup in front of her stall by virtue of a copper spoon in hand. She was focused, steady, quick and skilled in moving. She waved her wrist with her arm followed, and soon a lifelike swallow sprang up on the board.
Without waiting for the syrup to solidify, she quickly took out a small tool and drew the feathers, eyes and neck of the swallow in great detail. “I’ve been making sugar painting for 19 years, and some of the designs look simple, but I still have to learn a lot of details in order to get them right.” Li Mei moved without any sludginess and her eyes were still glued to the sugar when she talked. “You see, the feather on the neck should be natural and must follow the texture. The simpler the picture, the more technical it is.”
She stuck a sugar painting to a bamboo stick, pried it gently with a screwdriver, which indicates that she completes a swallow sugar painting. And then, she passed it to a little customer who was looking forward to it. With a smile, Li Mei said: “Dear, thank you for supporting our intangible cultural heritage craftsmen.”
The persons who make sugar paintings don’t make any sketches, and they do it all with their hands. The notion that practice makes perfect in this industry has made age almost synonymous with skill level.
Many children clamored for sugar painting. During the holiday, parents were very happy to pay for it, but they can’t help but compare Li Mei with the sugar painting masters in their memory: “Usually, the person who made sugar painting was the elderly, and such a young lady can make sugar painting well?”
Li Mei always answers with her works. The final result was that customers were happy to take their sugar painting with satisfaction.
“That’s what my workmanship is worth”
In my memory, you can make a sugar painting at 2 yuan. But for Li Mei's painting, it costs 15 yuan to require those patters on the left plate, covering dragonfly, butterfly, swallow and goldfish; and 25 yuan a time to require those patterns which require more sophisticated skill and technology on the right plate, covering dragon and phoenix.
“I set price based on my workmanship, and that’s what my workmanship is worth.” She said “If you give me any pattern, I can draw it.” As for the question that the price was too high, Li Mei answered with certainty: “Even if there is peer setting price at 5 yuan or 10 yuan, my price will still be the same.”
Someone once paid Li Mei 100 yuan to draw an AK gun. A three-dimensional yellow rose lifelike cost 50 yuan and more. During the epidemic period, to show her respect, Li Mei painted academician Zhong Nanshan with sugar, including medical workers which were all highly praised.
Sugar painting is more than 500 years old
Sugar painting artists are experts in boiling and making sugar. Li Mei introduced that the inclusion of “Longxing Li’s Sugar Painting” in the intangible cultural heritage is inseparable from the process of sugar boiling and making.
The reporter learned that sugar painting originated in the Ming Dynasty and has a history of more than 500 years. In ancient times, it was also called the “Sugar Prime Minister”. In the court custom of the Ming Dynasty, when offering sacrifices to ancestors during the Spring Festival, officials and high-ranking families often used molds to print sugar lions, sugar tigers, civil officials and generals to offer sacrifices. Later, this craft was introduced into the people and gradually evolved into sugar painting.
The scene of people making sugar paintings during sacrifice was recorded. Chongqing sugar painting in a book written by Qing Dynasty novelist Chu Renhuo. In Chongqing, sugar painting is commonly known as “Sugar Kwan Tao”, and it is edible and was once widely popular in cities and villages of Bayu.
In the early 1980s, sugar painting reached its heyday. Li Mei remembered that at that time, the monthly salary of a skilled worker was about 30 yuan, while her grandfather made sugar painting with a shoulder pole; and in a good business day, he could earn the amount which was nearly equal to one-month salary of other persons, which was a high salary at that time. (Translated by Liu Hongyan, Fathom Language Limited)