Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament

Author:Li Wenrui May 26, 2020
Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
Liu Lanfang, lineage holder of the Qingyang sachet and an entrepreneur [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

The Qingyang sachet, a time-honored cultural craft in Northwest China's Gansu Province is experiencing a profound local revival. Generating wealth and hope, it proves folk art can adapt to modern aesthetics and the consumer market.

"Qingyang sachets boast a vast collection of designs and patterns, and are filled with rich aromas. People like to carry these sachets to worship totems, avoid evil spirits and bear their hopes for safety, fertility, love and a better life," said Liu Lanfang, lineage holder of the craft and manager of a local sachet-making company.

The oldest existing Qingyang sachet is over 800 years old, excavated in 2001 from Huachi county at an ancient temple built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Listed as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2006, the Qingyang sachet dates back to antiquity. The Huangdi Neijing (Inner Canon of Yellow Emperor), a fundamental doctrinal source of traditional Chinese medicine, listed the sachet as an item to prevent plague and repel snakes.

Traversing the path from countrywoman to entrepreneur, Liu Lanfang is pushing the Qingyang sachet into greater scope – an artistic heritage lifting thousands of rural women out of poverty.

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
Donkey-shaped Qingyang sachets designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

A Childhood Dream Come True

Growing up surrounded by ingenious women, Liu was fascinated by their exquisite needlework — insoles, shoes, pillowcases and bedding bags. "Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of having my own needles and threads. My mom always carried hers around. Children weren't allowed to touch them," Liu recalled. "I didn't get mine until I turned 9. It was a splendid day!"

Her passion for stitchwork only grew from there, and Liu visited rural households to expand her embroidery collection. In 2002, she put on an exhibition during the first Qingyang Sachet Festival. "When orders started pouring in, I realized I needed to construct a professional team and turn this into a profitable business," Liu said.

Inspired by assembly lines in modern factories, she allocates tasks to groups of embroiders. Pieces of embroidery then come together as a beautiful product. "Needlework is personal. The style varies from person to person. At first, it was really hard to get everyone on the same page," Liu said. "We continued to train embroiders until we got a consistent product flow."

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
A dragon-shaped Qingyang sachet designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

Immersed in the art of Qingyang sachet for nearly 20 years, Liu feels deep gratitude toward several generous mentors — one being Li Cunsong, deputy secretary of the China Artists Association and an expert on Chinese folk art.

"Mr. Li offered us guidance and encouragement. Back then we often wrote to each other. He inspired me to think bigger, and make Qingyang sachet relevant in today's world," Liu said.

"One time my husband and I wrote to him explaining the difficulties in the market and personnel training, and that we were about to give up," she said. "Later we received a passionate letter from Mr. Li, urging us to keep on trying. He wrote, 'You cannot yield in front on a little setback. As two people in their prime, you must forge ahead and keep Qingyang sachet heritage alive.'"

As it turned out, Li was right. Liu's company was awarded the title of demonstrative training base by the Ministry of Culture and listed as a key enterprise for cultural product export in 2014.

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
Liu Langfang's workshop offers embroidering courses for women in local villages, Qingyang, Northwest China's Gansu Province. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

So far, she has created over 500 sachet designs transformed from traditional Qingyang sachet patterns. The company sold more than 300,000 sachets in 2018, many of which were exported to countries including the US, Germany, Italy and Belarus.

Lifting up the Left Behind

With most adult men having left for cities to seek higher-paying work, the women left behind have basically no personal income, struggling to take care of children and the elderly.

The days of cowherds and weaver maids have passed. In villages around Qingyang city, many women still enjoy needlecraft as a daily pleasure, making things for their loved ones and taking great pride in their skills.

"That's why I decided to organize these left-behind women. Our piece-rate pay works out very well. For those who need to stay home, we will send samples and materials to their home, and pay them right after collecting the embroidery," Liu said.

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
Qingyang sachets featuring 12 Chinese zodiac animals designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

Women from over 40 rural homes have become regular employees in her company, making around 2,000 yuan ($280) each month. Her workshop, during the past decade, has trained 20,000 women, and many still work there part-time.

"Now they don't have to depend on their husbands for expenses. Even for people with physical disabilities, we provide training so they can make money and build their self-esteem," the artisan added.

Ancient Crafts, Remade

Times are changing, and so is the craft. The artisan performs a careful balancing act, maintaining the essence of Qingyang sachet-making while adopting more flexible color palettes and fabric choices to satisfy the fast-changing tastes of consumers. "We now have developed several product lines based on age groups and geographical regions," Liu said.

She travels to at least 12 cities around China every year. "Different regions in China have their unique ways of expressing auspiciousness. The goal is to enrich my knowledge of various local customs."

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
Liu Lanfang incorporates modern aesthetics with the Qingyang sachet. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

Based on her international travel experiences, Liu also creates sachets tailored for overseas consumers. She once incorporated the Western holiday Halloween with Qinqiang Opera, a popular style of music in Northwest China, especially in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. People in the US loved the pumpkin-shaped sachets with Qinqiang Opera facial makeup. "The sachets represent the blending of Chinese and Western cultures."

In the era of social media, the traditional Qingyang sachet has already found new life on Taobao, China's biggest online shopping site, and short video platforms like Kuaishou and Douyin.

"Many young people really love the color and design of Qingyang sachet. They are curious about this heritage. Now everyone can appreciate its craftsmanship through video and livestreaming," Liu said.

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
A crab-shaped Qingyang sachet designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
A snake-shaped Qingyang sachet designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

Qingyang Sachets Stitch Their Place into Cultural Firmament
A crab-shaped Qingyang sachet designed by lineage holder Liu Lanfang. [For chinadaily.com.cn]

 

(Source: chinadaily.com.cn)

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