UNESCO recognizes Weifang as City of Crafts and Folk Arts
By Ji Jing  ·  2022-01-10  ·   Source: NO.2 JANUARY 13, 2022
An inheritor of intangible cultural heritage makes a dragon head kite in Weifang, Shandong Province, on April 16, 2021 (XINHUA)

Nie Xiwei, a colored clay sculptor from Niejiazhuang Village in Weifang, a city in Shandong Province, has been practicing his craft for over six decades. Local colored clay sculpture handicraft, which originated in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), is a part of China's national intangible cultural heritage (ICH).

Nie began learning to make colored clay sculptures from his father at the age of 10. He found it magical that chunks of mud could be turned into clay tigers and other figures. Nie became enthralled by the craft and sold his works to make money while still in primary school.

After he grew up, the craft became the way he earned his living. His exquisite skills enabled him to stand out among local craftsmen. The figurines he created mostly come from classic novels he had read when he was young. His reputation won him more orders than other craftsmen. Some of his tiger sculptures have been sold to Southeast Asia because they are believed to be able to keep houses safe.

Nie is now in his 70s and needs the help of glasses to color the sculptures, but he has continued to innovate. To design new sculptures of the Chinese zodiac, he sought inspiration online, by asking his grandson to search for images of the zodiac animals online.

Nie is one of the ICH inheritors in Weifang, which was added to UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) as a Crafts and Folk Arts City on November 8. The ICH inheritors are persons promoting and developing intangible cultural heritage. Weifang currently has guqin, a traditional Chinese stringed musical instrument, and paper-cutting listed as masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The UCCN was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.

Quan Wensong, head of the culture and tourism bureau of Weifang, said as a city with rich handicraft and folk-art resources, Weifang will continue to promote sustainable urban development by giving full play to cultural creativity. "Becoming a Crafts and Folk Arts City will promote the integrated development of the city's cultural and tourism industries and the upgrade of the cultural and tourism industries," Quan said.

Rural renaissance

Culture and tourism authorities in Weifang have encouraged ICH inheritors to help local people learn traditional handicraft and increase income so as to alleviate poverty and promote rural vitalization.

Nie Peng, a young villager in Niejiazhuang, started learning to make clay sculptures from his father when he was a child. He has led dozens of craftsmen in and near the village to make colored clay sculptures and the handicraft has become an important way for local people to increase their incomes.

As 2022 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese lunar calendar and tigers are a typical subject for colored clay sculptures, Nie Peng is expecting more sales in 2022.

Nie Peng said he started to learn to make clay sculptures in the previous Year of the Tiger and has witnessed the development of the art form over the past 12 years. In the beginning, the clay tigers were all of the same small size, but now there are tigers of different sizes and the largest can be over 2 meters tall. Previously the tigers were colored pink and green, but have now become more colorful.

Wangjiazhuangzi Village in Fangzi District, Weifang, is the largest kite production base in China. It produces over 80 million kites annually, with an output value of 280 million yuan ($43.9 million).

Zhang Qichang, a villager in Wangjiazhuangzi, opened a kite factory six years ago. He said he makes more money than he did when he relied on farming for a living. The village has a 500-year history and used to produce bamboo products. It was in 1984, when Weifang hosted the first International Kite Festival, that the village started to develop its kite industry.

In the beginning, the village produced mostly traditional kites in the shape of swallows, dragon flies and golden fish. Now, villagers use their imagination to innovate tradition and create kites of more diverse styles to meet consumer demand.

According to Wang Tieyuan, head of the Kite Industry Association of Fangzi District, there are more than 100 kite factories in Wangjiazhuangzi and more than half of its 4,600 residents are involved in the kite industry.

In recent years, many young people in the village have opened online shops to sell kites. During the annual November 11 Online Shopping Festival in 2021, it sold 200,000 kites.

Continued conservation

Local culture and tourism authorities have taken a series of measures to preserve intangible cultural heritage in recent years. In 2019, Shihuyuan Intangible Cultural Heritage Park was opened in Weifang, which serves as a platform for ICH exhibition, protection and inheritance. ICH items such as kites and guqin were introduced to the park. The project was a joint effort by the government and private companies.

At the park, tourists can come face to face with ICH inheritors to learn more about their traditional handicrafts.

Quan said Weifang has rich cultural resources and multiple traditional handicraft items. However, owing to the limitations of inheritors' knowledge and creative abilities, traditional crafts still bear room for improvement. The city will focus on the protection and preservation of ICH using digital means.

The city has also boosted the development of ICH by integrating it with modern industries. For instance, a silk company in Changyi is making some of its products using an ancient silk production technique that was identified as a provincial ICH. The combination of ICH with modern manufacturing has injected impetus into the transformation and upgrading of traditional crafts.

Weifang has regarded intangible cultural heritage as an important driving force for sustainable urban development and developed the related industry by training relevant talent. The city has developed ICH vocational education to expand the number of inheritors and promote protection.

For instance, the School for Deaf-Mutes in Weifang has carried out vocational education in ICH in recent years. It has invited inheritors to teach students handicrafts. It has also cooperated with enterprises in order to provide students with internship opportunities. Many students have found related jobs after graduation.

Nie Xiwei is concerned about the inheritance of the cultural heritage. "As I have been identified as an ICH inheritor, I feel I need to live up to the title," he said. His oldest son enjoys the craft and continues to learn from him. Nie Xiwei never turns away anyone who wishes to absorb the craft and guides them free of charge. "I should thank them for passing it down to the next generation," he said.

(Print Edition Title: Intangible Yet Whimsical)

Copyedited by G. P. Wilson

Comments to


China Focus
Special Reports
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise with Us
Partners:   |   China Today   |   China Pictorial   |   People's Daily Online   |   Women of China   |   Xinhua News Agency   |   China Daily
CGTN   |   China Tibet Online   |   China Radio International   |   Global Times   |   Qiushi Journal
Copyright Beijing Review All rights reserved 京ICP备08005356号 京公网安备110102005860