Documentary series Crafted with Purpose highlights efforts to preserve traditional Yunnan handicrafts

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In May and June of this year, CloudBridge – Media by Design sent a film crew to UNESCO World Heritage site the Stone Forest, not once, but twice. The goal was to interview people from the Sani minority living there and document efforts to preserve their indigenous embroidery traditions. Filmmakers Giorgio Giacomelli and Michael Premo interviewed nearly a dozen people over the course of a week. The resulting film is entitled Living Threads: Revitalizing indigenous embroidery in rural China.

What the documentary reveals is a concerted community movement to re-engage Sani youth with their culture and spread it more widely to those who may never have been exposed to it. Coupled with that effort are other goals such as finding modern applications for Sani embroidery and embracing social media and internet technology to move embroidery firmly into the twenty-first century.

CloudBridge is not the only company engaged in this work. Similar endeavors are underway across the province to capture minority cultural traditions on film while also speaking to those intimately involved with related preservation efforts.

One such group, working in tandem with CloudBridge, is Yunnan Shicui Tourism and Culture Development Company. At the same time we were making our embroidery documentary, their team was creating four others — one each on Bai minority tie-dyeing in Dali (大理), tinware making in Gejiu (个旧), bamboo weaving in Yiliang (宜良) and traditional stoneware made in Jianshui (建水).

The result is a five-part series called Crafted with Purpose. The group of films not only explains the history and cultural values associated with each handicraft tradition, but also explores what the Chinese government has dubbed 'intangible cultural heritages'. The term denotes ancient artisanal practices recognized by Beijing as vital parts of Chinese culture that are in need of preservation.

Living Threads: Revitalizing indigenous embroidery in rural China

Utilizing on-the-ground interviews, this film explores where Sani embroidery came from and where it is headed through the stories and experiences of those most intimately associated with it. Living Threads focuses extensively on an inheritor of Sani embroidery customs named Bi Yueying (毕跃英).

Mrs Bi is tasked with orally handing embroidery practices down to younger people, while also expressly involved in deciding how to make Sani handicrafts more commercially viable without sacrificing authenticity. The documentary is also available on our YouTube channel, Destination China. Check it regularly to see all the newly released videos we produce.

Bai minority tie-dyeing in Dali

Anyone who has been to Dali Old Town (大理古城) has seen the beautiful, hand-made tie-dyed fabrics for sale. What many do not know is that much of it comes from the small town of Zhoucheng (周城村), which lies about 30 kilometers north of the old town on the western shore of Erhai Lake.

In this film, cultural inheritor Duan Shukun (段树坤) explains the tie-dyeing process and catalogs what made her leave her job in Beijing, embrace tie-dyeing as an art, buy an old factory space and return to the old ways of creating 'real' dyes with seasonal plants growing on the slopes of the Cangshan mountain range.

Tinware traditions in Gejiu

For centuries Gejiu in southeastern Yunnan has been known for mining. The main product has always been tin, and the city developed a reputation for cultivating some of China's best tinsmiths. Guided by Lai Qingguo (赖庆国), who has been working with tin since middle school, this documentary chronicles Guejiu's history.

Lai explains the history of his craft, while also elucidating the region's historical influences. Gejiu was connected by railway to Southeast Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century, an event that allowed its tin products to reach foreign markets for the first time. It also provided an opportunity for local artisans to absorb and adapt outside influences while continuing to create tinware with a decidedly Yunnan flare.

Yiliang bamboo weaving

In the rural reaches of China, bamboo is a necessity of daily life, as it has been for thousands of years. Mothers tote babies on their backs in sturdy bamboo carriers, rice is sifted in bamboo baskets and tea is quaffed from fire-hardened bamboo cups. In southern Yunnan, the plant's stalks are stripped an woven together to make the walls of houses. Bamboo is everywhere.

This documentary looks at the importance of bamboo in the town of Yiliang. Your guide is Li Jiayun (李加云), a master bamboo weaver has taken up the task of not only preserving the older customs involved in his craft, but also elevating them in order to keep them relevant in today's technologically driven world.

Jianshui pottery making

Pottery is one of the oldest art forms created by humans. It has developed across the globe in thousands of varieties and iterations. In Jianshui, ceramics is so ingrained in the local culture that it is known across the country. There are four places in China renowned for their pottery making, and Jianshui is one of them.

Nationally recognized master craftsman Chen Shaokang (陈绍康) explains the evolution of pottery making in southern Yunnan and details what sets his passion for inlaying and painting apart from others working in the same field in China.

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Thanks so much for highlighting this important series — beautifully filmed and fascinating to watch. I just watched the one on bamboo art. Big concerns that some of China's oldest art forms like these will die out since it's so hard to make a living mastering them, but encouraging that some enterprising millennials have recognized the value of these arts and are working to create a high-end market for preserving them.

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