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Ivory, Jade and Wood Carvings in Guangzhou

The art of carving has a long history in China. It can be categorized by different materials-- ivory carving, jade carving, wood carving, rock carving, brick carving, bone carving and so on. The statuary art and finished product associated with Guangzhou style are called Guangdong Sculpture. The most famous are ivory carving, jade carving and wood carving.

Guangdong's Music scene is a treasure trove of the instrumental folk and Cantonese opera music that has been traveling around the Pearl River Delta area for centuries.

Ivory Carving

According to the records, the ivory carving art of China dates back to 3000 years ago. The appearance of ivory carving of Guangzhou starting from Jin Dynasty with a history of more than 2000 years, it was a little bit later than in Central China. There are 5 pieces of big ivory of a bundle in the unearthed relics from the Nanyue King Tomb of the Western Han Dynasty, the longest one is up to 126cm. According to some identification reports from experts, these ivories might be transported all the way from Africa through the Silk Road over the Sea. And some ivory portrayed containers for holding wine, ivory chips for counting and fragmentary ivory carving utensil were also unearthed. It is obvious that these ivories were imported as the raw materials for caving. If the identification is true, then the history of ivory carving ofGuangzhou ivory carvingGuangzhou is much longer. In the past, the Lingnan people especially the people in Guangzhou and Pearl River Delta considered the ivory as a mascot. They thought it could ward off evil influence. The "Yadiao" we introduce here is ivory carving. Ivory carving of Guangzhou was prosperous at the later stage of Ming Dynasty. After development through ages, it became gradually famous specialty in Guangzhou.

Before Liberation of China, ivory carving of Guangzhou were all made by personal workshops, mainly gathering in Daxin Road. After the Liberation, in order to make well organized and well planned research, improve and develop the ivory carving art, Guangzhou Municipal Government established the Daxin Ivory Carving Artistic Factory based on those personal workshops. The ivory carving artisanship has been improved a lot, and the production scale has been enlarged from then on.

Ivory carving of Guangzhou has both the rich colours of the eastern nations and the refinement and delicacy of Lingnan style. Flowers and trees, mountains and stones, dragon boats, pagodas and crab pots are often used as the themes for carving. The ivory carving artists are good at the unique hollowing technique in which the hollowed ivory carving ball and pleasure-boat are most famous ones. Especially the hollow-carved multiple-layered ivory ball is the most prestigious. The carving artists used a complete ivory material to hollow out the balls of various sizes with different layers. The smallest one has only 2 to 3 layers, the biggest one over 40 layers. Various kinds of patterns such as dragon, phoenix and flowers were carved on each layer which could turn limberly. Early in 1915, a 20-layer hollow-carved ivory ball made by ivory carving artists of Guangzhou obtained the Prize for Special Art in the International Expos in Panama. Till now, the layers of hollow-carved ivory ball made in Guangzhou can be up to 45. Pleasure boat with terrace and pavilion is another famous ivory carving product of Guangzhou. The body of pleasure boat is often the sculpt of dragon, with 2-7 floors and over 3000 peoples on it, and decorated with flags and lamps, etc.. It is true to life, in various shapes, different postures and manners, very splendid. In addition, a whole ivory could be used to make overall ivory carving with the designs of fisherman throwing net, completely-carved crab pot and ancient ladies, etc.

The ivory micro caving of Guangzhou is also famous in China. At the beginning of 1930s, Mr. Feng Gongxia, a famous micro carving artist of Guangzhou carved the whole text with 154 Chinese characters of the testament of Mr. Sun Yat Sen on an ivory as small as a grain of rice. He also carved the Communist Manifesto up to 25000 characters on a piece of ivory as big as a 64-mo paper (half of an A5 paper). His son Mr. Feng Shaoxia is also a micro carving master. He inherited the technique of his father and carved the eighteen arhat statues of different vivid images on an ivory as small as a grain of rice. It takes one's breath away to see those wonderful microcarving articals excelling nature which represents the highest level of ivory carving of Guangzhou.

Till 1980s, due to the mounting World Wildlife Protection Movement, it was prohibited to kill elephant, one kind of protected wild animal, and no country in the world could sell any ivory or ivory products. Chinese government obeyed this rules strictly, in this case, the ivory carving industry in Guangzhou was hit hard. Other materials had to be used instead of ivory, reluctantly made this traditional art continue. 45-layer ivory ball and pleasure boat with terrace and pavilion became the unique precious museum pieces, second to none in the world.

Jade Carving

Cantonese thinks that jade like ivory is auspicious and lucky and could guard against evil and avoid disasters, so they love jade very much and consider jade a dear to their heart. Most men and women of Guangzhou are wearing jade carving pendants round their neck, with jade rings on their fingers or jade bangles round their arms.

In 1983, a lot of jade wares were unearthed from the Nanyue King Tomb, in which there were more than 130 kinds of precious jade in Han Dynasty such as Yubi (a round flat piece of jade with a hole in it), jade boxes, jade burial suit with silk thread, jade seals, jade plates and jade horn cups, etc. Those jade wares were carved refined and delicately, with exotic design and wonderful techniques. It showed that the jade carving technique of Guangzhou had reached a very high level in Western Han Dynasty. And the Jade carving teniques were prosperous in the middle and late times of Tang Dynasty, with a long history over one thousand years. Jade art in Guangzhou inherited the tradition of artful colored jade from Song Dynasty and created the "colour remaining" technique which could bring out the natural colour of the original jade, very fine and elegant. Till Daoguang times of Qing Dynasty (at the beginning of 1800s), the manufacturing industry of jade carving in Guangzhou had become very common with a certain scale and its own market, the industrial and commercial guild for jade wares also came forth at that time.

Absorbing the jade carving techniques from other places, learning much from them in combination with its own techniques, Jade carving artists of Guangzhou created their unique style in kinds, crafts and materials. The raw materials of Jade carving of Guangzhou were selected from the "South Jade" from Xinyi, at the west of Guangdong, with the colour of olive drab, translucent, rich of natural stripes and figures. They were brilliant and sparkling after carving and polishing, having a unique beauty.

There are two kinds of Jade carving products, jewelries and furnishings. For jewelries, there are jade bangle, ring, earring, pendant and jade wares with inlayed gold, silver and gems, etc. For furnishings, there are traditional flowers, people, birds and animals, bottles and vases as well as superior crafts such as jade balls, pleasure boats and pagodas, etc. In which the through carving jade ball is a product that the jade carving artists of Guangzhou overcame the difficulty of high hardness of jade to make. With unique design and elegant sculpt, the jade ball has over 20 layers of different sizes of balls with the smaller ones inside the bigger, and of the same thickness, each layer can turn freely. Shaving slightly on your hand, a clear sound of the hits of jade stones will come to your ears. Mountains and waters, flowers and people, fishes and birds were carved on the ball, so vivid and true to life. A 18-layered Cue Ball with Hung and Attached Double Lions obtained a Prize in National Scientific Convention in 1978. The southern jade bowl of thin padding and jade carving teasets are also elaborate works among the Jade carving products of Guangzhou, and are precious products of the Jade carving art of China.

Wood Carving

Guangzhou wood carvingThe wood carving art has a history as long as other carving arts. Wood carving started from the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods of China, through Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties till now, year after year with constant innovation and development. Wood carving is one of the traditional carving arts in Guangzhou. It composes the three genres of wood carving arts of our country together with Beijing wood carving and Jiangsu wood carving. Guangzhou wood carving is famous for its style of semi-cubic through carving, full board carving connected with multi-layered carving. Chen Clan Temple built in Guangxu times of Qing Dynasty had collected the artistic spirits of wood carving, especially the Chaozhou gold painted wood carving ghost pavilion in Qing Dynasty and the censer cover represented the unique style of wood carving with elaborate crafts and exquisitely carved. The famous carving art of Guangzhou rosewood furniture came from the Guangzhou wood carving art.


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