Cloisonné (Jingtai Blue) are beautiful pieces of practical art made of porcelain and copper. The craft can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It became popular sometime between 1450 and 1456 during the reign of Emperor Jingtai of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). At that time, most Cloisonné pieces were blue. That’s how the name “Jingtai Blue” originated. The base of cloisonné ware is made of red copper; the body parts come in various shapes and styles. Handicraftsmen solder the patterns of flowers with gold thread or copper wire. An enamel glaze is used to fill the wire patterns and to form designs, such as flower petals. After firing, polishing, gilding and other procedures, a cloisonné work is completed. Cloisonné with unique designs, exquisite quality, beautiful patterns and magnificent colors bear distinct national characteristics, and have long been a valued handicraft for export.
Lacquerware is a traditional Chinese handicraft that has been passed down from generation to generation from ancient times. It reflects the craftsmanship, aesthetic concerns and the sense of elegance and grace of Chinese culture. Lacquerware, along with the jade, ivory-carving and cloisonné crafts, ranks among the top traditional Beijing handicrafts. It is one of the “Four Stars” of the arts-and-crafts industry and one of the “Eight Gems of Beijing Handicrafts”. There are mainly two types of lacquerware in Beijing: carved lacquerware and gold inlaid lacquerware. Lacquerware has an excellent reputation in the history of Chinese and international arts and crafts.
Beijing Opera Masks
The facial makeup used by players in Beijing Operas reveals a character’s historical significance or type, and is as important as singing and music in conveying a storyline. The facial masks in Beijing Opera have become a popular art form for domestic and overseas opera fans. They are now considered a symbol of the Chinese culture.
Bristle figurines originated in Beijing under the influence of shadow play and Beijing Opera. The base and head of a typical figurine is made of clay, and the body is made of sorghum stalks. Colored paper or silk is wrapped around the frame to make costumes. As in an opera, the facial masks are painted according to the character and story. When placed on a bronze plate that is struck, the bristle pasted onto the bottom can make the figurines move and dance as the strands vibrate. Accompanied by Beijing Opera music, the figurines seem like real actors dancing onstage. Bristle figurines embody the charm of classical literature and the operatic arts. Elder folk in Beijing refer to the art form as “Bronze Plate Figurines” or “Play in Plate”.
In ancient times, especially during festivals, people in many places had the custom of making steamed cakes, jujube flowers, moon cakes, dough fish and dough sheep with flour. Regarding as “blessings”, the figurines could be eaten as food or used as sacrificial offerings. As these “plants and animals” made of flour were tasty and good-looking and conveyed blessings, they were popular among the folk. As time went by, craftsmen emerged who became expert in making dough figurines of various characters and animals either using moulds or their bare hands. These colorful dough figurines were sold on the street, becoming popular attractions.
Hairy monkey is an exquisite and special handicraft in Beijing. Three to four centimeters tall, they are often called “Chinese Periostracum Cicadae”. The body of a hairy monkey is covered with semi-transparent brown or white fuzz. The art of hairy-monkey, which combines the nature of monkeys and artistic creation, requires great dexterity. It conveys a sense of monkeys’ nimbleness and naughtiness, reflecting the happiness, anger, grief and joys of common people.
Silk Flowers and Silk Dolls
Silk flowers or “Beijing flowers”, are another typical, historical Beijing handicraft. They are used widely in weddings, funerals, birthdays and during festivals in China. Huashi Avenue in south-central Beijing is famous for its production and sales of silk flowers. Silk dolls bear a close relationship with cloth toys and other cloth handicrafts. The colors and textures of silk dolls are more lifelike than clay figurines. Silk dolls mimic real people in miniature, with their fine skin, smooth hair, plump bodies, vivid expressions and beautiful clothes.
Flossy Flowers and Downy Birds
A chapter in the novel Dream of the Red Chamber describes that Lin Daiyu quarreled jealously with others because of imperial flowers. The imperial flowers described in the book are today’s flossy flowers. In ancient times, only people from the imperial palace were permitted to wear the flossy flowers. So the flossy headdress flowers were viewed as luxurious symbol of wealth and rank. The Beijing-style flossy flowers are made of the natural silk – the natural silk is first processed into floss, then the floss is made into a flower which is then wound around a thin wine. Developed from the flossy flowers, the downy birds in the shape of birds, chickens, and so on, have become more common and popular after 1950.
Beijing embroidery, the general name of embroideries of the Beijing region, is a kind of hand embroidery. Beijing embroidery became popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties and was used to decorate imperial palaces and clothes. The material of Beijing embroidery is carefully selected, the stitching involves great dexterity, and the colors and styles are beautiful and graceful.