Shu Brocade master Hu Guangjun: keep the craft; it is a kind of complex

Authors: Amy ( Translated by: Rachel Mussell)

2016-10-24

This classic art form is more than a cherished memory; it is also an inheritance. Chengdu maintaining this inheritance is dependent on “craftsmen” staying true to their craft.
“Being one of the four famous Chinese brocade crafts is the glory of the Shu Brocade,” Hu Guangjun began. He is a Shu Brocade crafts master, a maser of arts and crafts of the Sichuan Province, and the provincial representative of China brocade weaving skills of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) inheritors. This means he has more responsibility and persistence.
"Now, people do not want to learn weaving skills, and it worries me a lot on how to keep the art heritage," said 67-year-old Hu Guangjun at the Shu Brocade Research Institute in Chengdu.

Hu Guangjun is one of the best-known Shu Brocade artists in Chengdu and one of the city's accredited inheritors of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Even with graying hair, he is full of energy, but when talking about brocade weaving art heritage, his voice is solemn.

The Shu Brocade is an important national-level ICH item, and is the oldest of the four famous traditional crafts, namely the Yun Brocade, Zhuang Brocade, Song Brocade and Shu Brocade. Even after a thousand years, the Shu Brocade status remains the same because of its rich culture, artistic connotation, and unique technology. The Shu Brocade is also a symbol of Chengdu art, which has resulted in Chengdu being given the names "Jincheng" (Brocade City) and "Jinguan City" (Brocade Government City). Chengdu was a carrier of cultural exchanges and trade in the "Silk Road"; it has witnessed the development of history and has a unique cultural value.
On September 12, we visited the Shu Brocade Research Institute at Jiujiang Town in Shuangliu District. The workers at this institute include the Chengdu Brocade Factory experts and artists, and a number of technical workers. The Ancient Shu Brocade Institute was first opened in April 2008. Hu Guangjun is the deputy director and technical director and engineer at the institute.
Entering the institute, you can see the Hua Lou draw-loom. Hu told us they did not use this draw-loom very often because it only runs on manpower, so they had adopted new methods to lower manpower in order to increase Shu Brocade production. They used this new machine to finish the final part of a Shu Brocade weave. Even with the use of more advanced technology, the history of making the Shu Brocade was not tarnished because a majority of the brocade was made with the Hua Lou draw-loom.

Hu explained that the traditional process of brocade production can be roughly divided into two parts: card punching and weaving. The Hua Lou draw-loom and the Shu Brocade weave technique are combined from pattern design to the cross stitch. The corporate production of the Shu Brocade has been adhering to the old tradition, even after the machinery update. Actually, the Shu Brocade has many unknown crafts. According to Hu, the brocade weaving process is complicated; there are a total of more than 10 jobs and 5-60 processes; this means that production requires a lot of teamwork. Hu said: "One person is unable to complete Shu Brocade products. From design to sample weaving, it usually takes years for seven or eight people to finish it."
The most treasured brocade of the Shu Brocade Institute is a 13-meters-long work named Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival. The brocades in the works are boats, carriages, and landscapes. They show movement and stillness, and they are very realistic and exquisite. In 2011, its exhibition made a splash at the Chengdu International Exhibition of ICH. While admiring the painting, Hu said: "The painting from the design to the weaving takes a total of 3 years and 8 months. It is made by more than 10 engineers and technical personnel, including two weaving specialists of the Shu Brocade. Even now with the use of the new machine, it takes 3 months to complete one." Sichuan Provincial Museum has collected this work.
The institute is currently the main production of Shu Brocade. Products are mostly tourist souvenirs, gifts, crafts, clothing and other fabrics. "In order to spread the Ancient Shu Brocade into millions of households, we will further the depth of development, such as bedding, interior decoration and all kinds of small products. We can also specially customize Shu Brocade products," He said.
On weekdays, teacher Hu is visited by many people all around the world who are interested in the Shu Brocade. He informs these people of the Shu Brocade's glorious history and its current status.
"I am getting older, so I do not have the energy I did when I was younger. I hope that I am able to pass this technology down before I die, but the reality of this happening is worrying,"
"In order to keep producing this precious, ancient craft, there must be people who want to learn. I will absolutely teach anyone who is interested." Hu wants to keep the Shu Brocade craft, and especially the brocade culture itself, alive. To Hu Guangjun, the brocade culture is very special to him and he does not want it to die out.

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