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County climbs out of poverty, brick by brick
From:ChinaDaily   |  2020-09-16 09:35

Based on a pattern sketched on a smooth, green brick, Guo Aijun carefully used sculpting knives to carve out each leaf, branch and petal of a peony, which is his favorite pattern. The finished work will be used for architectural decoration in the northwest region of China.

The brick carving in Linxia county of Linxia Hui autonomous prefecture, Gansu province, is widely used in temples, gardens and residential buildings with patterns like flowers, dragons, phoenixes, birds and clouds.

Guo, 33, is an apprentice and has been carving brick sculptures for five years. The first step is to grind the green bricks, and he recalled that it took him a whole week of learning and practice to smooth them out.

"I became impatient because my whole work is repetitive," he said, adding that he then gradually realized that laying a good foundation is key for mastering the skill.

After three months of imitating his master's carving works, Guo finally got the opportunity to create his own work, carving bamboo on a small brick measuring 24 centimeters by 30 centimeters.

"Brick carving is hard work," he explained.

"We inhale a lot of dust while working in the workshop, and carvers have thick calluses on their fingertips and the palms of their hands."

However, he added that he is so passionate about his work that he loses track of time and sometimes forgets to eat.

Guo makes between 5,000 yuan ($730) and 6,000 yuan a month. It is not just a job, he said.

"There are a few young people engaging in brick carving, and I think it is meaningful to carry forward the craft."

He said he believes he will be able to fully master the skill in two or three years and engrave all the patterns by himself.

This is encouraging to craftsmen like Zhang Hailin, who has over 20 years of carving experience.

"We would like to sincerely and carefully teach young people who have patience and are really into the business," said Zhang, who lives in a registered impoverished household.

Zhang, who is the breadwinner for a family of six, earns 7,000 yuan a month and said he can continue carving for at least 20 more years.

To Zhang, brick carving is no longer just a hand-to-mouth job, it is about creating works of art.

Linxia brick carving was listed as a national Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2006.

In 2018, Fan Xiangjun, general manager of a local brick carving company, set up a workshop relying on the craft to create jobs and increase the incomes of local people to help them shake off poverty.

The county has yet to be removed from the national list of impoverished counties.

The workshop provides four training sessions every year for 120 people on the craftsmanship and culture behind brick carving. It creates jobs for trainees and people in local impoverished households, Fan said.

"Most of the trainees are from poor families and are interested in the skill," he said.

At the moment, 42 people are participating in his workshop, 37 of them from impoverished households, according to Fan.

His company produces about 50,000 square meters of brick carvings a year, and most of the products are sold to northwestern provinces.

To innovate traditional craftsmanship, Linxia county works with universities to improve carving skills and develop cultural and creative products.

So far, the county has developed 28 kinds of small and exquisite products derived from brick carvings, such as small flowerpots and ornaments, with average prices from 200 to 300 yuan.

Guan Lansheng, a professor at the School of Art and Design in Lanzhou Jiaotong University, said that "only by making intangible heritage works combined with the aesthetics of modern life can the culture be carried forward and developed".

Guan and his team set up a traditional craft working station in Linxia Hui autonomous prefecture. The cultural industry will expand the market for brick crafting works, which will create more jobs to reduce poverty, Guan said.

At present, the output value of the brick carving industry in Linxia county reached nearly 500 million yuan, creating jobs for over 3,000 people-700 from impoverished households-said Han Jiehe, head of the county's bureau of culture and tourism.

Brick carving has become a major pillar industry in Linxia, Han said.

"We will continue to develop new materials for carving and focus on promoting Linxia brick carving to make it known to more people."