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Jiwu Wuqie: inheritor of the Yi ethnic group lacquerware xiu craft

2013-12-12 15:27:32

(China Today)


Leaving the Village

As Jiwu Wuqie’s craftsmanship became more widely known, he was often offered work at the county’s ethnic tableware manufacturing factory. But his father did not want his only son to leave the family seat. It was not until 1982 that Wuqie finally became a regular worker at the factory. Before long, he was appointed director of the workshop responsible for lacquer work and ornamentation. It was then that the thousand-year-old traditional Yi lacquerware craft left the village.

“Before reform and opening-up, lacquerware in Xide was the reserve of the Jiwu clan, according to the custom of ‘passing on only to family members, and only to the son’s wife rather than to daughters,’” Jiwu said. As director of the workshop, he broke this rule by sharing his craftsmanship with others. This brought him promotion in 1987 to the position of deputy director of the factory. Jiwu used his authority to update the factory by improving the quality of its products and training larger numbers of skilled workers.

But Jiwu was not satisfied with this post. It made him feel bound by invisible ties that prevented him from giving full rein to his ideas.

In 1992, amid the gradual deepening of reforms to the Chinese economic system, Jiwu handed in his resignation and established an ethnic craft business with support from the local government. He thereafter set great store by the market as well as product quality. His hard work and skillful innovations built his reputation and brought in orders, and consequently good profits. Jiwu inherited just 16 types of lacquerware techniques from his father, half of which was in home tableware. Over 10 years, he expanded this range by more than 30 lines.

Meanwhile, over the years Jiwu has been recruiting apprentices in Ninglang County, Xichang and Shaojue in the neighboring Yunnan Province through lectures, workshops and instruction he has given there. His wife and children are now also lacquerware masters.

Expansion Overseas

Burgeoning tourism has brought waves of visitors to Liangshan, whose lacquer work consists mainly of popular gift and souvenir items.

In 2008, Jiwu was invited to the fifth Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico in the United States. Dressed in traditional Yi ethnic costume, he walked through the square to the opening ceremony as the flag bearer leading the Chinese delegation. In the exhibition hall, milling with more than 17,000 visitors, Jiwu displayed 285 of his personal works, two of which were snapped up by the Museum of International Folk Art.

In 2009, an application was made to the UN for Yi and other lacquerware under the broad heading of Chinese Lacquer Art to be awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Jiwu’s prestige and his works have since become known internationally. His lacquerware items are in high demand and collected in more than 30 countries and regions, including the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South Korea and Japan.

Dare to Innovate

Jiwu’s lacquerwork art and craft is apparent not only in tourist souvenirs but also in architecture.

As a habitat of the Yi people, Xide County urban planning features ethnic characteristics and style. Jiwu regards this as a golden opportunity to extend his works and those of his apprentices to buildings, lodges, eaves and frescos. In other regions of the province with Yi populations, such as Xichang and Puge, his paintings now hang in eaves and appear as frescos in ethnic restaurants and local homes.

Working on lacquerware occupies Jiwu’s whole life and embodies his personal values. Through it he meets collectors, experts and celebrities from all over the world. He hopes people of all ethnicities will develop an affinity with Yi lacquerware and its culture. He hopes to foster as many talented lacquerware craftspeople as possible during his lifetime.

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