Ronghua – the ancient, dying craft of making velvet flowers, dating back to the Tang dynasty

“Born and raised in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, at the heart of eastern China’s silk-producing Yangtze River Delta region, Zhao began his more than 40-year career as a ronghua creator as a 19 year old at a state-owned factory.

The art of making ronghua – literally “velvet flower” – dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907) and refers to the creation of not only floral displays, but also animal shapes from fine silk on a twisted wire frame.

Velvet Flowers Ronghua SCMP 23.12.17 Courtesy Handout

Some of Zhao Shuxian’s creations have been used in period dramas on television. Concubines in imperial China wore ronghua as hair accessories. Photo: Handout/SCMP

The beautiful designs produced by artisans in centuries gone by were highly prized by China’s ruling classes, including its emperors. Now, however, due to changes in tastes and production methods, Zhao is one of only a handful of people still making them.

The 63-year-old works from a studio at the Nanjing Folk Museum. As well as making items for sale, his creations have been used in fashion shows and television productions.

Velvet Flowers Ronghua Hao Shuxian, 63, SCMP 23.12.17 Courtesy Handout

Zhao Shuxian, 63, said most Chinese people these days do not regard making ronghua as a decent profession Photo: Handout/SCMP

He also puts on demonstrations for tourists and for the past three years has been training apprentices. He currently has three young women under his tutelage and said he would be happy to take on more, if only their families would allow it.

“Many young women have shown interest in learning the art,” Zhao said. “But most of them don’t take it any further because of pressure from their families, who don’t regard it as a real profession.” (1)

Velvet Flowers Ronghua SCMP 23.12.17 Phoenix Coronet

Zhao said it can take more than a day to create a single piece like this phoenix coronet Photo: Handout/SCMP

Source: Meet the Chinese artisan fighting to keep his silky skills alive SCMP 23rd December 2017.

See: Velvet bird of old Beijing China Daily 24th April 2012

This article was first posted on 27th December 2017.

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