Pictures on gourds: Ancient art preserved

By Sun Ruisheng in Taiyuan and Zhou Huiying (

Updated: 2022-03-04


Xue Gailian (left) creates an image on a gourd using pyrography in her studio in Wucun village of Wenshui county, Shanxi province. [Photo provided to]

Over the past 20 years, Xue Gailian, 65, has created numerous works with gourds using pyrography, an intangible cultural heritage in Shanxi province, and helped her fellow villagers make money with the art form.

Twenty years ago, like most residents of Wucun village in Shanxi's Wenshui county, Xue's family made a living from growing grapes. But their income was limited by the local climate and soil environment.


Gourd pyrography art created by Xue Gailian [Photo provided to]

"One day, my husband brought a good-looking gourd with him when he returned from outside the county," she said. "I liked it very much and wanted to preserve it. So I made a painting on it."

After traveling to investigate techniques, Xue, who loved painting since childhood, began to plant gourds on her farm. After a good harvest, she began to trying pyrography – the art of burning images into wood or other materials with hot tools, such as a poker or soldering iron. The art has been practiced since ancient times.

"At the beginning, I found it was not very easy for me to control the tools and I didn't make good images," she said. "To improve my skills, I traveled to Shandong province and Tianjin to learn from skilled folk artists."


Gourd pyrography art created by Xue Gailian [Photo provided to]

Gradually, Xue's art rose to prominence in domestic and foreign markets, including Japan and Singapore. She also established a gourd pyrography association and has taught more than 100 local residents for free.

"In the future, I will introduce more modern planting technology to improve the scientific planting of gourds," she said. "I will also further research and teach gourd pyrography skills to help villagers increase their incomes."

She added: "I hope we can create a complete local gourd industry chain, showing more people the charm of Chinese traditional folk arts and crafts."