Indian-Chinese Couple Brings Ancient Craft to the Global Stage

ByTan Yingzi and Deng Rui April 8, 2024

Rongchang xiabu craftsmanship — a Chinese traditional intangible cultural heritage — is getting more attention and market opportunities worldwide owing to the inheritance and innovation by Ivan Andrew Chen, a young man from India, and his Chinese wife, Tang Yi.

Rongchang xiabu, a type of xiabu (literally "cloth for summer"), or Chinese linen, is an ancient handmade textile that originated in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) in Rongchang district, Chongqing.

Rongchang, Tang's hometown, is a historical city that claims three national cultural intangible heritages — Rongchang xiabu, Rongchang pottery and Rongchang paper fan-making techniques. It is also an ideal cultivation base for high-quality ramie, or China grass, from which the renowned xiabu cloth comes.

Hailed as the "king of natural fibers", the textile is comfortable, easy to wash, durable, and gives off a silky luster, making it ideal summerwear.

Xiabu from Rongchang was once immensely popular. It became a favorite fashion choice for royals and nobles during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was one of the earliest exported products from the area in the 20th century, with an annual output of around 700,000 bolts.

Born in Mumbai, India, in 1989, Chen has deep roots in China — his grandfather is a Chinese Indian from Guangdong Province, and he has a quarter Chinese heritage. He worked as a service coach with an international airline in Qatar for six years.

Chen reconnected with China in 2015 when he met Tang at a friend's party.

Tang, 32, was born into a family that has concentrated in the xiabu industry in Rongchang for three generations. In 2022, her cousin Ma Linqin was honored as a municipal-level inheritor of Rongchang xiabu craftsmanship in Chongqing.

Shortly after completing a college business degree in the United Kingdom, Tang returned home with a vision to help her family's businesses at Chongqing Rongchang Denan Linen Textile Co, one of the local pillar xiabu companies.

In recent years, the cousins have incorporated elements appealing to younger tastes into the ancient art and have promoted hundreds of creative items made from their xiabu fabric, such as screens, decorative paintings, embroideries, folding fans, notebooks, bedding and towels.

Customers diplay their wall hangings made of Rongchang xiabu in Chongqing in February. [Deng Rui/China Daily]


"My personal and professional journey took an unexpected yet fortuitous turn when I found love and got married in Rongchang in 2019," said Chen.

After Tang introduced Chen to Rongchang xiabu, the young man was soon captivated by the fabric and the exquisite craftsmanship meticulously preserved and passed down through generations.

Chen gave up his former job and embraced Rongchang as his new home. He serves as a cultural ambassador and seeks to promote Rongchang xiabu globally. He taught himself Chinese and became reasonably fluent within one year.

Their educational backgrounds, business acumen and cultural differences, propped up by Chen's eight years of hospitality experience, have given the couple a much broader perspective — honoring traditional practices while ensuring the product's relevance in the global marketplace.

In recent years, Rongchang xiabu has gradually become known to more cultures, thanks to the couple's joint efforts and sensitivity to international tastes. Xiabu products are sent to foreign diplomats from Germany, Poland and Switzerland as souvenirs.

They opened a xiabu-themed spa resort in Rongchang in 2021.To enhance clients' experience, they incorporated the anti-bacterial, breathable fabric during spa treatments.

A year later, the couple opened the Rongchang Buju Boutique Hotel, the first xiabu-themed hotel in Rongchang.

"The cultivation of ramie is sustainable, requiring less water and pesticides than many other crops," said Chen. "It represents an eco-friendly approach to textile production — an ancient wisdom of harmonizing with nature that is imperative in today's world."

The couple infused various xiabu elements into the guest rooms' linens, bedding and home decorations to promote an environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Last year, they opened a restaurant featuring Sichuan and Indian dishes in their hotel to enrich its cultural diversity.

"Witnessing the artisans' meticulous craftsmanship ignited a fervor within me to share this splendid tradition beyond the borders of Rongchang," said Chen.

According to the local commerce commission, the annual demand for xiabu in the international market reaches around three million bolts, among which 40 percent are sold to South Korea. In the last three years, 13 xiabu manufacturing companies in Rongchang, including Tang's family business, have exported goods worth more than 50 million yuan ($6.93 million).

In August last year, organized by the local commerce commission, the couple brought Rongchang xiabu to a textile exhibition in South Korea. In February, they exchanged wares with peers at a textile fair in Vietnam.

Chen said they will continue participating in international trade shows and cultural festivals to exhibit Rongchang xiabu's unique qualities and demonstrate its cultural significance.

He said India has excellent costumes and clothing design, but it's a pity that a culturally specific product like Rongchang xiabu is not very popular. Next, he is seeking international collaborations in his home market.

Chen also plans to launch educational programs to train new artisans and collaborate with fashion institutes. Additionally, he aims to partner with sustainable brands to integrate xiabu into modern wardrobes and work with educational institutions to provide workshops and lectures on xiabu.


(Source: China Daily)


Please understand that,a non-profit, information-communication website, cannot reach every writer before using articles and images. For copyright issues, please contact us by emailing: The articles published and opinions expressed on this website represent the opinions of writers and are not necessarily shared by