Across China: Young inheritor explores modern channels to promote millenium-old craftsmanship
LANZHOU, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Following a design shown on her cell phone, Ruan Xiyue, 35, quickly sketched a manned spacecraft on a gourd, completing the first step of gourd sculpture, an intangible cultural heritage of northwest China's Gansu Province.
Coming from a family engaged in gourd sculpture for almost 90 years in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, Ruan is not satisfied with just perfecting her technique. Instead, the fourth-generation inheritor aims to bring traditional craftsmanship closer to young people through marketing and sharing.
Dating back over 1,600 years, gourd sculpture was first developed as a decoration on people's portable wine pots made of gourds. The pronunciation of "gourd" in Chinese, which resembles that of "luck and fortune," partly explains its lasting popularity.
For Ruan, the fragrance of gourds is the smell of home. Upon graduating from college, she started learning gourd sculpture from her mother, sitting for hours every day practicing calligraphy and painting, which she deems as the essential training to become a qualified sculptor.
Many elderly craftsmen, like Ruan's mother and grandfather, tend to spend a long time carving complex, traditional patterns, such as peonies and carp, to convey a message of blessing, while Ruan prefers pop culture elements, such as cartoon figures, and painting them in a simplified way.
Ruan also developed innovative products such as gourd mirrors and gourd necklaces to tap the market potential, believing they can help the craft reach more people.
Sales of gourd-related products bring her family around 300,000 yuan (around 44,585 U.S. dollars) per year, said Ruan.
Inside the museum of the intangible cultural heritage of Lanzhou, where Ruan works as a docent, her family opened a gourd sculpting studio in 2010, displaying their works as well as a history of the art.
Ruan likes talking with visitors to the studio, and their interactions inspired her to launch a curriculum for people to experience the craft in 2016.
According to Ruan, around 800 people attend the courses every year. Among them are students eager to learn something new, and young parents who bring their kids along to enjoy some lovely family time.
"Many participants told me that our courses enable them to know more about the history of Lanzhou, and help make the city's memories last longer," said Ruan.
Under Ruan's influence, her mother is now live streaming on social media every day sharing her stories of gourd sculpture with viewers across the country.
"Sharing is inheriting," said Ruan. "When we share our skills and knowledge with more people, the traditional culture will naturally be spread on a wider scale," said Ruan.