China is the home to a wide variety of arts and crafts, such as sculpture, metal work, weaving and embroidery, folk paintings, ceramics, and lacquerware, in addition to folk arts such as paper cuts, lanterns, kites and toys.
Cloisonne is a famous traditional enamelware, known as the "Jingtai Blue" in China. It was so called because "blue" was the typical color used for enameling and this enamelware was popular in the years of the reign of Emperor Jingtai of the Ming Dynasty (about 500 years ago). The making of cloisonne requires rather elaborate and complicated process: base-hammering, copper-wire curving, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel-firing, polishing, gilding, etc. Varieties available include vases, jars, bowls, plates, ashtrays, smoking or seasoning sets and so on. Beijing is a major producer of cloisonne and its products are often selected as valuable gifts to be presented to distinguished foreign guests.
There are four important embroidery centers in China. They are Hunan, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Sichuan, each famous for its own particular style. Therefore Xiang (Hunan), Shu (Sichuan), Su (Jiangsu), and Yue (Guangdong) have become the four most famous styles of embroidery.
Xiang embroidery has a history spanning more than 2,500 years. The designs show birds, animals, flowers, and landscapes. Originally Xiang embroidery was done on a single side of a piece of fabric. Later craftsmen adopted the technique of double-sided embroidery in which both sides display the same design in the same color.
Su embroidery is famous for its delicate workmanship, beautiful designs, and tasteful colors. Suzhou's double-sided embroidery has a distinct pattern on either side. The two sides bear different patterns with different stitches and colors.
Yue embroidery, which is usually done in bright colors, includes the woolen needlepoint, cotton embroidery, and embroidery with gold and silver thread. The superb workmanship of the Yue embroidery enables it to win prizes at international fairs in Panama and London in 1915 and 1923.
The typical example of the Shu embroidery is " Hibiscus and Carp". Smooth, beautiful and exquisitely stitched, it shows a hibiscus tree growing on the river band and carps swimming in the clear water.
Porcelain is perhaps the greatest invention of the Chinese people. The celadon wares from Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province and the white porcelain from Neiqiu, Hebei Province were famous throughout the country. Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province dominated porcelain production and was known as China's porcelain capital, with its products famed as " white as jade, bright as mirror, thin as paper and making music when tapped." Its products had a special appeal. Superb porcelain such as qinghua (blue and white), jihong (rainbow), doucai (blue and white with a red, yellow, green and purple over glaze) is without equal anywhere in the world. Yixing is praised as China's pottery capital, and its red ware, made with local purple clay, has close texture, unsophisticated form and Chinese style. Today, in addition to inheriting traditional methods, Chinese ceramists are developing many new techniques. The under glazed wares of Liling, the gold-outlined wares of Tangshan, the crystalline-glazed wares of Zibo win acclaim from porcelain connoisseurs at home and abroad.
Chinese lacquerware has a long history. Chinese lacquer is a natural vernish made from the sap of the lacquer tree. It dries on exposure to air to form a plastic coat, which is resistant to water and acid or alkaline corrosion. It may be applied with or without a coloring agent to a body made of wood, bamboo, leather, or metal. The lacquer is applied in numerous coats, each of which must be allowed to dry before the next is added. Chinese lacquerware is elaborate in workmanship, elegant in appearance, and harmonious in color. Lacquer- ware today is produced in Beijing, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Yangzhou, Yichuan, Chongqing, Pingyao, and other places. Objects made of lacquer are works of art as well as articles for daily use, including screens, cabinets, and coffee tables, etc.
Jade has been cherished by the Chinese as a symbol of many virtues. Its hardness suggests firmness and loyalty, and its luster projects purity and beauty. Jade carving is one of the earliest art forms to reach a superior level of achievement in China. Jade carvings are made by chiseling, grinding, and boring. Typical subjects of jade carving are flowers, birds, vases, animals, human figures such as disciples of Buddha, fairy ladies and so on. Jade-carving centers are in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Liaoning and Xinjiang.
With a history of 5,000 years, China was the earliest producer of silk in the world. Silk cocoons and bits of silk have been found among relics from 4,700 B.C. Silk fabrics traveled to Europe and the Middle East along the "Silk Road" 2,000 years ago.
Today, silk technology is much advanced and silk fabric come in several hundred varieties; the best known include georgette crepe, damask, satin, silk gauze, crepe silk, raw silk, velvet, tough silk, embroidered silk and painted silk.
The traditional silk centers of Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces are still the two major producers of raw silk and silk fabrics in China with a combined output that makes up more than half of the national total.
China's three best known brocades are: the Song brocade made in Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province, the Nanjing brocade made in Nanjing of Jiangsu Province and the Sichuan brocade made in Chengdu of Sichuan Province.
Photo Gallery of National Chinese Crafts