Across China: Artisan couple strives to revive, popularize China's intangible heritage

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XI'AN, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- As a time-honored cultural heritage in China with a history of more than 1,000 years, dough figurines can help revive people's memories of childhood.

Unlike other children who just play with dough figurines, Zhang Beiyuan, from Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, learned the craft of creating them from his uncle when he was very young.

With wheat flour as the main material, folk artists mix it with oil, salt, vinegar and other ingredients. By using their hands and simple tools like a pair of scissors and bamboo sticks, artists knead and pinch the dough to forge it into lifelike figures.

In 2015, after studying animation and sculpture in Japan for eight years, Zhang decided to return to his hometown and use his knowledge to promote the ancient art of dough figurines.

Later, the handicraftsman married his classmate Zhao Jingjing, who had studied animation in France and worked in this field for five years. The couple then pursued a career in dough figurines in China with a genuine love for traditional Chinese culture.

The couple often brainstorms ideas together, fully incorporating their professional knowledge of modern art, sculpture and animation design into the ancient handicraft.

Recalling an experience of espying impressionist masterpieces in Europe, Zhao said she appreciated them from the bottom of her heart. Similarly, her foreign friends were amazed by China's intangible cultural heritages and artistic creations.

"We believe, despite the different cultural contexts, human beings share the same quest for art and a common taste for beauty," Zhao said, adding that many foreign friends and overseas Chinese have come to learn dough figurines from them.

"There was an American girl who came to visit Xi'an with her family for four days, and she spent three days learning dough sculptures. An Australian friend of ours is now teaching a course in Sydney after studying the traditional art in China," the couple said. "All of these experiences give us cultural confidence."

In recent years, China has rolled out a slew of measures to strengthen the protection of the country's intangible cultural heritage. According to a new guideline released last month, China plans to spread and popularize intangible cultural heritage while integrating it into the national education system by offering related courses in middle and primary schools.

The couple has also been teaching the younger generation how to create dough figurines for the past three years.

Zhang said the children usually start with simple modern cartoon characters that are popular among them. "When they fall in love with the art, we will teach them to make dough figurines of classic Chinese figures and introduce the traditional culture behind them."

The couple said they are glad to see that now the country is providing strong support for the creation and protection of old handicrafts, and more and more young people are devoting themselves to artisanship.

Going forward, the couple aspires to make dough figurines more popular in the market by renewing the content so that China's intangible cultural heritage can survive and thrive. Enditem

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