A British Lady’s Efforts to Protect ICHs of Ethnic Groups in China

Authors: Go Chengdu

2017-06-21

There are thousands of delicate handcraft works with exquisite craftsmanship sold in Blue Sheep, including leather carving, knitwear, accessories, woodcarving and paintings by the disabled or poor artisans, some of whom are natural disaster sufferers or are poverty-stricken and from ethnic groups.
Moving Stories Behind the Products
A family photo on the teapoy in the shop drew the reporter's attention. Mr. Yu Guangrong and his family lived in western Chengdu's Wenjiang Distrct and made a living on leather carving. All the meagre money they made is spent on the medical treatment of their two sons, both of whom have Beta Thalassemia, a blood disorder that causes extreme anaemia and can misshape bones and organs. It costs the family thousands of Yuan monthly to have the children get frequent blood transfusions. Hearing about their predicament, Rachel went to their house and purchased all the leather products they had made and eased their urgent financial burden.
In addition to the goods from Mr. and Mrs. Yu, Rachel purchases many families' and groups' products. Up to now, she has offered help to more than 600 handicraftsmen and families. She knows well about every story behind every product. The Shu Embroidery works on the cabinet were made by the deaf-mute kids from the Chengdu Special Education School, the leather carving wallet was produced by 5 disabled men, and the fabric knitting products by some Yi women ...
Apart from the work with individuals, Rachel also purchases goods from 35 handcraft companies, including Hearts and Hands, which provides young deaf people in Kungming with technical training and support to help them make beautiful products. When Rachel first came to the company, it was on the brink of bankruptcy due to its high operation cost and poor sales. To help it survive, Rachel soon decided to become its only stable buyer, and sustain it to employ continuously the disabled staff.
Rachel said the real and moving stories made the goods more valuable. "People would like to help the poor disabled by purchasing their goods."
Innovation to Inherit Intangible Cultural Heritage and Satisfy Market Needs
Dongxiang, Hani, Miao, Qiang and Yi ... There are various handmade articles imbued with folk customs and cultures of China's different ethnic groups in the shop. Rachel believes it is very important to preserve China's diversified and unique cultures because they are common treasures of the entire human race. She often asks her friends to teach those in need skills and techniques of making different kinds of handicrafts.
Although people can buy cheap stuff produced in the factory line, the handmade products are of higher quality, more delicate and more culture-enriched. What is more important is that every single handcraft is a unique intangible cultural heritage. "If we don't protect the traditional workmanship, it will get lost, and we will lose the really valuable cultural heritages."
During the process of promoting the traditional crafts, Rachel found that it always takes much time and energy to make some handicrafts such as the traditional costumes of Yi and Qiang people, and not many people would buy them. She thought the challenge her company faces is to help the handicraftsmen understand the current market needs and innovate the product design. "They should make the traditional products chic and sytlistic, to follow the trends of fashion and preserve the cultural uniqueness. So she inspires the artisans to work out simpler and more practical designs, to make the products more popular with the market.
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