Editor’s Note: This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies, as part of a series of ongoing reports exploring the city’s abundant resources in intangible cultural heritages.
The traditional Chinese culture, both extensive and profound, starts far back and runs a long long course. The splendid culture gives birth to a large diversity of traditional crafts. But do you know the lacquer decoration art in Chongqing?
Chongqing lacquer decoration art enjoys a long history. It originated in the Shang (about BC1600-1046) and Zhou dynasties (about BC1046-256), developed in the Qin (BC221-207) and Han dynasties(BC202-AD220), flourished in the Sui (AD581-618) and Tang dynasties (AD618-907), continued to the Song (AD960-1279), Ming (AD1368-1644) and Qing (AD1636-1912) dynasties, and has been passed down to the present days. So what exactly is it?
The lacquer decoration art (髹饰, xiushi) is a traditional craft used on artworks in ancient times. In Chinese, “髹 (xiu)” means to coat with lacquer, and “饰 (shi)” means to ornament. This superb traditional skill is the crystallization of the wisdom of ancient working people.
Chongqing lacquer decoration art is widely loved for its unique workmanship and brilliant Chinese traditional cultural core. In June 2008, the State Council listed it in the second batch of national intangible cultural heritage. There are mainly four kinds of products, including daily items, tourist souvenirs, ornamental collections, and architectural decorations, both practical and artistic, which have glossy surfaces, rich colors, and beautiful ornaments.
“The key to an exquisite piece of lacquerware is to balance the decoration and the shape of the object, especially the three-dimensional shape design, which is the most difficult,” said Chen Qizhi, the inheritor of this intangible cultural heritage. After the shape has been designed, mold it with clay first and then with plaster. Later brush it with the isolating agent and dust it repeatedly, using raw lacquer to paste silk, linen, and other fabrics on the model for several layers. After the formation, polish, dust, and level several times, and finally lacquer, inlay, grind and paint. Thus, it takes a long time to complete a product, and it even takes three or five months for a small piece.
With the rapid development of society, lacquerware have gradually faded away and the lacquer decoration art is even rarer. But as long as we discover the modern beauty of Chinese traditional culture and bring it into people’s daily lives, more and more people will know about it, fall in love with it and pass it down.
(The original article comes with a Chinese version authored by Bai Hui (advisor/Jing Xi) as well as an English version translated by Xie Yuxin (advisor/Hu Wei), and was later narrated by Zhang Zikang (advisor/Ren Yi), all of whom are students (and teachers) from Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies.)