Ethnic textiles in south China once faced extinction due to a sharp decline in the number of masters, but are now making a comeback among young people.
The number masters of the traditional textile techniques of the Li ethnic group, has risen to more than 10,000, compared with only about 1,000 in 2009, said Chen Ying, a provincial intangible cultural heritage official in Hainan.
Technical training and school education have contributed to the renewed popularity of the art which includes spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidery.
Hainan now has 105 representative masters of the techniques, who are qualified as teachers to pass on their skills. About 2,000 pupils in 19 primary and middle schools study the craft there, Chen added.
There are about one and a quarter million Li in Hainan with a history of more than 3,000 years. The traditional Li textiles were inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2009.
Mo Zhengkai, a student in Guoxing Middle School in Haikou, capital of Hainan, decided to take the Li textile course. The craft which requires great patience and dexterity, proved too complicated for him at the start.
"It's part of our national cultural heritage, but few people nowadays master traditional arts, so it might become extinct," he said. "We young people need to pass it along."
Mai Mingzhen, of the same school, has been learning the techniques for one semester.
"I chose to study out of curiosity when I saw the beautiful work of senior students," said Mai. She can weave simple pieces now and hopes to make a masterpiece soon.
Male and female students, both Li and Han, have shown great interest in the techniques, said Chen Dan, Mo's teacher.
Like Mo, more than 1,200 students in the school have taken the optional course since it was established in 2004. Since September, similar programs have been launched in another 18 primary, middle and high schools in Hainan.
"The teaching includes both Li weaving skills and the traditional culture of the Li people," said Chen.
Historical records indicate that the Li achieved high levels of quality, as their products were given as tribute to the royal family in ancient times. However, with rapid industrialization, traditional hand-weavers have been gradually replaced by machines, while raw materials, such as dyes, are hard to find due to environmental changes. Few young people now wear traditional brocade garments, worsening the situation further.
By 2009, only 1,000 local residents, mostly those above 70, still had brocading skills, down from 50,000 in the 1950s.
"Textile courses in local schools will promote the craft and attract young people to learn the skills," said Chen.
Compared to the master/apprentice inheritance and training by government departments, the school courses have proven an efficient way to boost the craft among the young, said Chen Dan, the teacher at Guoxing Middle School.
"To train more professionals, the government should gradually spread the program to other cities and counties on the island," she suggested.