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Centuries-old art form saved

Post Time:2008-03-21 Source:Shanghai Daily Author: Views:
While Chongming's development has accelerated in recent years, the eco-county has nevertheless spared no effort to preserve its unique island traditions and culture.

Zaohua (which literally means flowers on the oven), a centuries-old art form of painting clay ovens, has been listed as one of Shanghai's Intangible Cultural Heritages. To better protect this folk art, Chongming has established the city's first zaohua museum in the Nanjiang Village, Xianghua Town.

Zaohua, originating in Song Dynasty (960-1279), was created by bricklayers as a blessing for the family. The flowers are supposed to ward off evil spirits, bring happiness and welcome peace and abundance. The bricklayers, who were all poorly educated farmers, couldn't read or write, but they could paint the most beautiful pictures that expressed their strong affection for life and nature.

The topics of the paintings include varied aspects of village life - celebrations, ceremonies, picking produce, snow scenes and farming, figures from ancient mythology, Chinese gods and many others.

Chongming farmer artists normally use rice wine and wok ash mixed with chalk, all of them cheap and practical pigments. Their preferred painting tools are long iron needles as well as fingers.

Before pictures drawn were normally black and white, but with an increasing choice of color, the painters now like to use a wide range of bold, bright colors and spread them throughout their paintings. They are like children's paintings, they are vivid, easy to understand and filled with imagination.

"Zaohua has gradually faded away from the villagers' daily life as more farmers use gas to make their meals. Many traditional clay ovens are out of use now," said Zhu Dandan, the local government official. "We should do something before it dies out."

Last year, a zaohua painting contest took place in the village, and it attracted 36 people from the island's 14 towns. Most of the entrants were 60 years old and older and many were bricklayers decades ago. The oldest contestant was 92 years old but because zaohua painting always requires that the painter stands while working, the man had to quit in the middle of the competition.

The 67-year-old Liu Shangkang was a bricklayer in his twenties. Now his hobby is painting zaohua.

"The painting skills were taught by my father and he learnt his from his father. It has passed down the generations," Liu said. "We never make drafts, it has to be impromptu, we draw what we want to draw."
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