Awards pay tribute to skilled model workers across various trades

By Yuan Shenggao (China Daily)

Updated: 2022-05-13

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Ancient structures in Shanxi inspire wood-carving artist Liu Xiaochen's works. [Photo by Wu Jia for China Daily]

No one is born with talent. It is hard work, dedication and long-term concentration that make a master in a certain trade. This is shown by the award-winning craftsmen in Shanxi.

The awarding ceremony of Shanxi's Master Craftsmen of the Year 2021 was held in Taiyuan on April 30. Ten model workers in different industries won the award.

Xue Xiaodong, an inheritor of hand-polished lacquerware, an intangible cultural heritage item unique to the county of Pingyao, was one of them.

Learning the traditional technique from his father, he has been in the trade since he was a child.

Xue, 60, is often referred to by his colleagues as a "dull old man who does not know how to enjoy his leisure time".

Xue, however, said he is not a dull man by nature, and he is so called because he has devoted most of his energy to making good lacquerware items.

Known as one of the top four lacquerware varieties of China, the hand-polished lacquerware in Pingyao is a brilliant representation of the craft in the country. It is made of natural raw lacquer and varnished by hand using a special technique.

As the creation of the traditional artworks involves complicated techniques ranging from embedding, sculpting and carving to colored painting, a successful craftsman in hand-polished lacquerware needs decades of experience, concentration and an unfailing taste for aesthetics, Xue said.

A frequent winner of various national awards, Xue also views innovation as the lifeline of the hand-polished lacquerware. His recent works show a combination of the realistic and abstract, the Chinese and Western styles, which gives a new lease of life to this traditional art with a history of more than 1,000 years.

Another winner of the Shanxi's Master Craftsmen title is Liu Xiaochen, a wood-carving artist from the city of Xinzhou.

Liu said his love of wood-carving art was inspired by the many ancient architectural structures in Shanxi.

"Shanxi is the province with the largest number of ancient buildings and structures like the Sakyamuni Pagoda in Yingxian, the Hall of the Holy Mother in Taiyuan's Jinci Temple and Xuankong Temple in Hunyuan are the representatives of ancient Chinese architectural achievements," Liu said.

Liu has spent more than 20 years visiting various ancient architecture sites in Shanxi and the rest of the country, aiming to represent them in his own way.

While these representative structures appeal to visitors with their spectacular sizes, Liu's representations went in an opposite direction. His renderings of these large structures are wood-carving miniature copies with sizes reduced to dozens of inches.

"A wood-carving miniature requires a great sense of accuracy," Liu said. "And the margin of error for every part should be less than 0.3 millimeters."

Several workers in the modern manufacturing industries were also on the list of master craftsmen. These included Liu Rui, an operator of machine tools in Huaihai Industries Group in Changzhi; and Shi Zhijie, a steelmaking worker from Taiyuan Iron & Steel Group.

Wu Jia contributed to this story.