Modern craftsmanship skills are inherited from traditions and folklore, with each skill being branded by their respective national markings. These traditional skills include: Cheongsam
, Paper Cutting, pottery, New Year photography, shadow puppets, face-changing, and embroidery, among others. These traditional skills contain many Chinese cultural values, and have been included on the list of National Intangible Cultural Heritage items. However, in the current era, the knowledge and know-how for these traditional skills have gradually declined. The following article will introduce some of these traditional Chinese skills to more people.
The Cheongsam, a cherished Chinese garment, has a rich history encompassing both men's and women's fashion. Women's Cheongsam evolved from Qing Dynasty clothing and underwent notable changes throughout the 1920s - 1930s. Influenced by politics, culture, and social trends, women embraced the "inverted big-sleeved Cheongsam," reminiscent of Qing Dynasty robes. In the 1930s, as Western culture seeped into Shanghai, the Cheongsam transformed with more fitted styles and varying hem and sleeve lengths.
Extending beyond Shanghai's borders, the Cheongsam captivated women in Hong Kong who embraced the elegance of the fashion trend, creating the city's distinct style of Cheongsam. As the 1940s approached, skilled tailors from Shanghai flocked to Hong Kong, infusing their expertise and Western tailoring techniques into the art of Cheongsam making. Originally worn as everyday attire, the Hong Kong Cheongsam has since evolved into a symbol of grace and refinement for special occasions. Meanwhile, the Cheongsam carries deep social significance for men, symbolising status and authority among clan elders. This evolution showcases the interplay of tradition and modernity, weaving together history, culture, and sartorial flair in a tapestry of timeless elegance.
The Paper Cutting art heritage was approved by the State Council to be included in the first batch of National Intangible Cultural Heritage items. Paper Cuttings is also known as window cutting, or picture cutting. The difference is that when during the process of creation, the artist may choose to use scissors or knives. Although the tools are different, the artistic works created are basically the same, and people collectively call them Paper Cutting.
Paper Cutting is divided into monochrome and chromatic, in reference to their colour. Paper Cutting with one colour is called monochrome Paper Cutting. Like monochrome woodcut in printing art, it is the most commonly used form. Such works appear very simple yet elegant. Meanwhile, chromatic Paper Cutting is a work carved with Paper Cuttings of different colours. This form is not commonly used, but it looks vivid.
Coloured embroidery refers to the embroidery technique that uses various coloured threads to control the embroidery pattern. It has the characteristics of a flat embroidery surface, rich needlework, fine stitches and bright colours. It is widely used in clothing accessories.
There are also plentiful colour changes within colour embroidery. It uses lines instead of writing, and produces a gorgeous colour effect through the overlapping, juxtaposition, and interlacing of various colour embroidery lines. In particular, it is most distinctive to show the subtle changes in the colour of the pattern with its specific needle technique. The colour is deep and shallow, and renders an effect akin to traditional Chinese painting.
Shadow Puppets, also known as "shadow play" or "Lantern Opera", was chosen to join the list of representative works of Human Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. It is a kind of folk theatre that is made of animal skin or cardboard to perform a story. During the performance, artists manipulate the cutout actors behind a white screen while telling the story with popular local tunes. At the same time, it is accompanied by percussion instruments and string music; the performance has a strong local flavor ot it. It is extremely popular, thanks to the different instruments and voice actors from different places, which form a variety of shadow plays.
Additionally, shadow plays are an ancient traditional Chinese folk art. People in old Beijing called it "donkey shadow play". According to historical records, shadow play began in the Western Han Dynasty, flourished in the Tang and Qing Dynasties, before spreading to Western Asia and Europe during the Yuan Dynasty; it has a long history.
Face changing is a special skill used to shape one’s face into different characters. It stems from the art of Sichuan opera. It is a romantic way to reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in the play.
According to legend, "face changing" comes from ancient humans who drew their faces in different ways to scare invading beasts, in order to survive. Sichuan Opera has put "face changing" on the stage and made it a unique art with excellent techniques.
Chinese opera also involved makeup that would evoke certain emotions, which worked well with face changing. Face changing was first used for supernatural characters, which existed in the Ming Dynasty. Face changing can be divided into “big” face changes and “small” face change. The "big" face change is that the whole face changes (three, five, or even nine times); "small" face changing refers to parts of the face itself — wiping eyes, blowing powder, and pulling your face.