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New generation digs old values

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-03 09:15
Yang Luoshu, a 19th-generation member of an artisan family, makes New Year woodblock paintings in Shandong province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

An online documentary series, now in its fourth season, shows that young people have the time and patience for tradition, Wang Kaihao reports.

Today's Chinese youth are often labeled as a generation who want everything at the click of a button. But an online documentary may change your mind and show you that they can also be patient if they want to.

When The Great Shokunin was first aired through Chinese streaming platform Youku in 2016, probably even its producers did not expect it to do so well. The show's fourth season is now available online since April 2.

In each season, the lives of dozens of artisans, who are from all over China and some neighboring Asian countries, are recorded in detail to reflect traditional Eastern aesthetics. Shokunin is a Japanese word describing an artisan who is devoted to his or her career.

Though the word is borrowed from Japan and Japanese artisans are often famed for their outstanding craftsmanship, the producers want to show that the trait is identical here in China.

"Our primary mission is to promote traditional aesthetics and touch young people's hearts," says Li Wuwang, CEO of Cicada Modern, the studio that made the documentary.

Young viewers in its previous seasons have found many idols to admire - from a centenarian tailor making cheongsam dresses in Shanghai and a 19th-generation artisan of a family line making New Year woodblock paintings in Shandong province to a lacquerware maker in Anhui province who has spent decades only to make a perfect bowl to satisfy himself.

"Intentionally or not, we're recording something that is dying, to leave something for the future," says Li.

The cheongsam maker, for example, died at 99, soon after the show was released.

"We felt sad," says Li. "But that is what time means for everyone."

And luckily, the work process of the man, who once tailored clothes for film stars in the 1930s, is recorded in the documentary. Similarly, the work of a silk artisan from Cambodia - who devoted himself to reviving a dying tradition after war ended in his country - was also recorded. The Cambodian artist died last year from cancer.

Li says preserving dying traditions is also part of Cicada Modern's mission. So, each artisan shown is interviewed for a long time. And though only a very small part of the interview is used in the documentary, Li says the rest is part of a huge database on craftsmanship.

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