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[Traditional Art] Less hands make light work
Latest Updated by 2007-03-05 10:22:52
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It is a time-honored tradition for the Chinese to hang up red lanterns during Spring Festival, especially on the day of Lantern Festival which falls on a Sunday (Mar 4) this year.


Qian Qiulian shapes the bamboo frame of a lantern. 

However, the hand-made lanterns have gradually been replaced by machine-made ones. The ancient art of lantern making is in danger of being lost forever.

Li Bingxin, an 80-year-old retiree, is among a committed few who are trying to keep the art alive. Li's workshop in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, is an attempt to revive the tradition.

Li used to work at the Zhengzhou Nanxiajie Lantern Factory which went bankrupt. Li led some 20 laid-off people to set up her workshop 10 years ago.

Li has been making lanterns for 30 years and has trained more than 80 apprentices. She said most of her apprentices had switched to other vocations owing to the meagre earnings from lantern making.

Fortunately this year, lantern sales for the festive season have been satisfactory. Li has sold out all the 200 hand-made lanterns. The sales have brought her four-staff workshop about 10,000 yuan ($1,280).

But back in late December, the workshop saw few orders. Li Ruiqin, Li Bingxin's granddaughter and a staff in the workshop, admits she was very worried.

"As the peak period for lantern sales was approaching, I was hoping the lanterns we had been making all through the year could be sold ahead of Spring Festival, so that the employees could get their wages before the new year," Li Ruiqin said.

The machine-made lanterns are cheaper and have flooded the market and although the hand-made ones are more durable and have better features, they are fast disappearing.


Li Ruiqin affixes the golden ornamental laces to the bottom of the lanterns for decoration.

The wholesale market near the Zhengzhou railway station is filled with all kinds of cheap lanterns that Li said merely possess the lantern's shape but not its essence.

Li's workshop, which is a shabby tenement in a remote corner of the city, has been shrinking and now there are only three rooms and four employees left, of whom the youngest is above 50.

Li said it takes them three days to churn out a lantern, but the factories can produce 20 per day on average.

"The machine-made lanterns covered by plastic may collapse as soon as Spring Festival ends," said Bai Shuying, in his 80s and the oldest employee in the workshop.

But the lanterns the workshop make can survive as long as seven or eight years. And the prices of their lanterns are not much higher than the machine-made ones.

Li Ruiqing said the workshop was also responsible for the lifetime repair of every lantern it sold.

Some people said although the markets were full of the machine-made lanterns, they still preferred the man-made ones for their emotional appeal. But unless the art of lantern making is passed on to younger generations, they may be left with no choice but to go for what the market has in abundance.

Editor: Wing

By: Source: China Daily Website
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