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Practitioner of Miao Architecture
When Shu Yejun passes on, his craft will die with him. The simple and affable architect, now in his 60s and living in an ethnic area in Central China's Hunan Province, has dedicated much of his life to traditional Miao ethnic architecture.

His structures line the bank of the Huayuan River in Huayuan County, his hometown.

The structures, properly known as hanging-turret buildings, are part of a unique ethnic architecture style in China, distinguished by its overhanging eaves that warp at an acute angle.

He considers the eaves, which shade houses in the summer and prevent the spread of fire, the "soul" of his buildings.

"Young women used to sit on the top floor of the building and watch as the Huayuan River trickled past the window and under the eaves," he said wistfully. "The beauty of the eaves and the charm of the women complemented each other perfectly."

But such wooden architecture has become a rarity since the government decided to ban lumbering, and Shu is now one of its last practitioners.

"My master passed away last year, leaving me as the only disciple to carry his skill on," he said. "Although I have an apprentice who is 47 years old, he is fond of cement buildings and pays little attention to the old craft."

Shu, dressed in a traditional Chinese tunic suit, proudly shows off the calluses on his hands - reminders of the 40 years he has devoted to his work. Shu began his apprenticeship when he was 18 years old. His dedication won him fame around the town.

"He never makes blueprints before building houses; his blueprints are all in his mind," a town official said admiringly.

The eaves are particularly difficult to craft, with each one weighing more than 100 kilograms. He has carved crests and fish heads.

A marketplace with dragons playing with pearls engraved on every pillar, which Shu built years ago, might be the last classical Miao architecture that he contributes to his hometown.

"I have no outlet for my talent, and my craft will probably die out, but I am in favor of the woods-protection policy," Shu said. "The welfare of the future generations is more important than my craft."

Shu chooses to make the best of it.

"A hundred years from now," he said, "people who drink tea in the hanging-turret buildings by the river might still think of me."

(China Daily March 29, 2002)

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