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Lifestyle
Keeping An Old Handicraft Alive
A Beijinger dedicates her life to palace carpet weaving
By Wei Yao | NO. 14 APRIL 5, 2018
 

An example of a palace carpet that represents the highest standard of the art today

Wang Guoying, 50, a fifth-generation inheritor of the palace carpet-making handicraft, has practiced the trade for over 30 years. The craft was spread to Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when carpets were given to the royal court as gifts by the "Western Regions," an area west of the Yumenguan Pass in northwestern Gansu Province which included what is now Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and parts of Central Asia.

During the Yuan Dynasty, a carpet-weaving workshop was established to make carpets for the royal court in the capital Dadu, present-day Beijing. Such workshops remained throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, both having what is now Beijing as their capital. The technique for making the carpets began to spread to the general public in the late Qing Dynasty. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, palace carpet weaving was developed as a key industry for export in Beijing, with a number of carpet factories established.

The golden thread used for making a palace carpet from a recovered technique

When Wang started working at the state-owned Fifth Carpet Factory of Beijing in 1986 after graduation, the factory had hundreds of workers and a large number of carpets and tapestries were exported every year. However, as productivity improved in the 1990s, traditional handicrafts like carpet weaving faced a difficult road. Production and sales at Wang's factory shrank considerably and many artisans left. However, Wang chose to stay out of a deep love for the craft.

As China underlined the importance of traditional handicraft for preserving Chinese culture, Wang's factory experienced a revival in recent years. In 2005, Wang and her colleagues successfully recovered a lost technique for making carpets which involves the use of golden thread by studying an ancient piece of work at the Palace Museum. Palace carpet weaving was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2008.

Later, Wang's factory embraced new opportunities for development when it was acquired by the Beijing Huafang Culture Development Company, a state-owned enterprise focusing on inheriting and developing China's intangible cultural heritage. Renamed the Beijing Huafang Carpet Art Company, it built new workshops in the northeastern suburban Shunyi District in Beijing and started recruiting and training employees in 2015. Since carpet weaving is a complicated process which takes a long time, the company took two years to train master workers and establish a system for passing down the handicraft of palace carpet making. In 2017, the company officially started to promote and sell its products.

Wang Guoying uses golden thread to make a carpet

Wang said it often takes more than half a year to finish a single piece of work. For those who want to do this job, they must first of all love it, because patience is very much needed. Wang also said that the social status of artisans like her has been greatly improved, thanks to the policy that the government has adopted in recent years to encourage and cultivate craftsmanship. Seven of her apprentices have been admitted to the School of Continuing Education of the Beijing Institute of Technology.

Wang teaches one of her apprentices the art of carpet-making

Wang commented that such opportunities for further study can help young artisans to sharpen their palace carpet-weaving craft and to promote personal development. As one of the intangible cultural heritage inheritors and masters, Wang said there is a lot of work ahead for her, especially making sure the ancient artistry lives on for a long time to come. She hopes to continue to promote the development of carpet weaving so as to spread Chinese culture.

(Photos by Wei Yao)

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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