Beijing Gourd Artist Helps World Understand Beauty of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage

 May 26, 2021
The gourd-pyrography craft [Quanjing]


Pyrography is the art of burning pictorial images onto a surface, such as wood, leather or paper. During the past two millennia, numerous Chinese craftspeople have used irons, as paint brushes, to paint on gourds. As "葫芦 hulu (gourd)" and "福禄 fulu (good fortune and luck)" are homophones, many Chinese consider the gourd to be a mascot. The craft of pyrography, on gourds, is on the list of China's intangible cultural heritage.

Many Chinese remember the old film, Secrets of Treasure Gourds, which brought pleasure to their childhoods. The film's hero, a pupil named Wang Bao, discovered a treasure gourd, which could grant him anything he wanted. The lazy boy was eventually taught a lesson, at which time he realized he should work diligently to earn the things he wanted. As the film won the favor of countless Chinese, the term "treasure gourds" became widely used to refer to some secret weapons.

Gourds date back 7,000 years in China. The unique-shaped plants are good for more than delicious, home-styled dishes, as they have high medicinal value. Chinese also use the plants to make musical instruments, and various types of crafts.

Records indicate the gourd-pyrography craft originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The craft entered its golden age during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), when exquisite gourds (with pyrography paintings) were offered as tributes to members of the imperial family.

During the past several decades, many works of art made from gourds, including gourds with pyrography paintings, have been preserved in national museums. Since 1978, when China implemented its policy of reform and opening-up, a growing number of foreigners have visited the country. Many of those tourists have bought crafts made from gourds, which helped promote the crafts.

During the past two millennia, craftspeople (in various regions of the country) have created numerous exquisite pyrography paintings (on gourds), which have had tremendous aesthetic value. Given the ingenious designs and the superb workmanship, the paintings are of high artistic, collectible and decorative value.

Many regions of China (including Tianjin, Beijing, and several cities in Hebei, Shanxi and Anhui provinces) are renowned for their production of such gourds.

Gourds (with pyrography paintings) from Beijing have been renowned for hundreds of years. Interest in the artworks can be attributed to both the superb workmanship and the various beautiful patterns, including landscapes, figures, animals and flowers. The paintings have a strong, three-dimensional effect.

The gourd-pyrography craft [Quanjing]


As the fourth-generation inheritor (in his family) of Beijing's gourd-pyrography craft, Niu Chengguo during the past four decades has devoted all of his energy to pursuing his dream — displaying the unique charm of the craft. His zest for the craft has inspired him to tirelessly pursue artistic perfection. With his enthusiasm for beautiful things, and his persevering effort to improve his artistic skills, he has created many works of art that have captured their "vigorous vitality."

"When I was a little boy, I was fascinated by the lifelike patterns (on gourds) created by my grandpa. I began studying how to create the crafts under my grandpa when I was 11," recalls Niu.

Creating a pyrography painting (on a gourd) is time consuming, and the work requires tremendous patience. However, Niu has never given up on his pursuit of artistic perfection. He apprenticed under several master painters, so he could improve his skills of creating traditional Chinese paintings. As a result of his constant, painstaking efforts to improve his craft-making skills during the past several decades, he has become a skilled craftsman.

In addition to putting an incredible amount of effort into practicing and honing his craft-making skills, Niu during the past several decades has strived to improve his cultural competency and artistic taste, so he could create better artworks.

Niu's efforts to improve his ability to create wonderful artworks have paid off, as his works have won the recognition of numerous customers, both at home and abroad. In addition to the domestic market, his crafts have sold well in many countries and regions in Southeast Asia, Europe and America. Various departments of Beijing's government have presented many of his works to individuals in other countries during cultural exchanges. As a result, the popularity of the art form has increased.

Niu's success should be attributed, in part, to his efforts to foster technical innovation. To meet customers' demands, he in recent years has developed nearly 30 new technical skills, to make the pyrography paintings (on gourds) look more vivid. Compared with the traditional technical skills, it is easier for art enthusiasts to master the new technical skills, so they can learn how to create the paintings faster.

In 2009, Niu set up a gourd-craft cooperative in his village, Dingjiazhuang (in Shunyi, a district in Beijing). He is president of the cooperative. During the past decade, he has spared no effort in developing the cooperative, to help the villagers escape poverty by growing, processing and selling gourd crafts created by craftspeople in his cooperative.

In addition to the 300-plus members (of the cooperative), Niu employs more than 200 disabled residents at the cooperative. Given Niu and his employees' efforts to promote, both online and offline, their crafts, Niu's business has boomed during the past few years.

In 2014, Niu established Beijing Gourd Art Manor (in Liuzhuanghu, another village in Shunyi), to provide a platform to help visitors understand the unique beauty of the gourd crafts, and to help art enthusiasts study how to create the crafts. As an increasing number of tourists have visited Liuzhuanghu, the village has become a new economic engine within the local tourism industry. Beijing Tourist Administration has named the manor "a Four-star Rural Scenic Spot in Beijing."

Given his tremendous efforts to promote the development of Beijing's gourd-pyrography craft, Niu during the past few years has received many awards and titles. For example, he has been named a leading rural tourism entrepreneur in China, and a senior rural talent in Beijing.


(Women of China English Monthly March 2021 issue) 


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