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The inheritors of Miao and Tujia art
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Nie Fangjun adds colors to the pasted-paper sculpture of a lion head. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/Duan Xuelian]

Nie Fangjun adds colors to the pasted-paper sculpture of a lion head. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/Duan Xuelian]

Distributed across southwestern China's Guizhou and Hunan Provinces, people of the Miao ethnic minority are considered a versatile group. They are best known for their special singing and dancing, but some forms of rare Miao craftsmanship have also gained attention as the tourism industry develops in local areas, such as the ancient town of Phoenix. In this prosperous small town, craftsmen still devote themselves to passing on their centuries-old handicrafts.

The art of pasted-paper sculpture

Locals know that Nie Fangjun, 73, probably tops the list of experts on pasted-paper sculpture. To make these sculptures, he binds bamboo into the shape of an animal skeleton, usually an auspicious animal such as a lion, dragon or phoenix, and then fleshes it out with brightly colored paper and vivid drawings pasted over the bamboo framework. The caring hands of a craftsman put life into the delicate sculptures, Nie explains. Each has its own significant details, for example, the curly hair of a lion is drawn into the shapes of colorful clouds to symbolize good luck, and the lion's eyebrows are drawn high up on its head to show power.

As early as age four, Nie took up the family tradition of making the sculptures and is now among the few remaining artists in this field. He says the art form demands not only talent but also patience. In old times, people used pasted-paper sculpture in various festivities to pray for good luck.

Nowadays, few really understand this ancient art form, but its scarcity makes all the more precious. Besides the flocks of tourists who buy Nie's paper sculptures as souvenirs, increasing numbers of experts researching China's cultural heritage are taking an interest in Nie's handicrafts. Pasted-paper sculpture is included in a book on China's historic art forms.

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