If you go on a group tour in China, you will no doubt be taken to a souvenir shop - sorry arts and crafts museum. They are of variable quality, the best pieces of course being in the Forbidden City and National Museum. I went to a place mentioned recently in Time Out near the Temple of Heaven, and grandly named as the Hundred Crafts Workshop and Museum.
The 4-storey building houses over 30 studios and over 100 craftsmen and their apprentices, dedicated to protecting hundreds of years of traditional handicrafts. They are there to explain their craft, work on pieces of art in front of your eyes, and of course to sell. I read on the internet an overseas tourism official who called it the Louvre of China. Well, when I got there, I was of course disappointed. There were indeed many, many different kinds of handicrafts on display, some of high quality. There were also hardly any visitors, which is a relief in Beijing, but also not much going on in the various workshops, and few artisans keen to explain what they were doing. Perhaps it was because it is low season now.
Anyway I took some photos to show you some of the pieces on display. Some belong to one of the "Eight Marvels" of Beijing arts and crafts - jade carving, cloisonne, ivory carving, carved lacquerware, palace carpets, Beijing-style embroidery, inlaid filigree gold lacquerware and inlaid gold lacquer. Others are just fun items.
This is an example of cloisonne, which was brought to China in the 13th century from the West (Islamic culture), and became popular during the Ming Emperor Jingtai's time, especially using blue colours, so the name of this type of art in Chinese is "Jintai Blue". It then became popular in the 18th century in Europe.
A more modern piece commemorates the Beijing Olympics of 2008, with some traditional motifs around the border.
This studio caught my eye. I'm sure you haven't seen such figures before. They are carrying a bride to her wedding in a traditional sedan chair. Strings of firecrackers are carried at the head of the procession. Double happiness signs are everywhere, all in lucky red colour of course! But what are the delicate figures made of?
I had a close look and saw what they call "hairy monkeys" - complete bodies of cicadas which are cleaned up and given hairy bodies. It's supposed to be decorative but I'm not sure I'd want this on my mantelpiece in the sitting room at home!
Something more traditional is papercutting, you need skill and patience to do this!
There are many differnt kinds of studio, and I nearly got a fright when I passed by these dogs - luckily they were just stuffed animals standing guard outside a studio!
Jade carving is one of the Eight Marvels, and a couple of pictures here are of some delicate jade pieces