Celadon makers in Zhejiang vie for recognition

Nestled in a mountainous area, Longquan city in Zhejiang province is known for its celadon porcelain and swords, both of which have a history of more than 1,000 years and have

helped cultivate many craftsmen.

In recent days, many celadon makers and sword producers have been busy preparing paperwork as they compete to be designated model craftsmen by local rural vitalization officials.

Last month, the National Rural Revitalization Administration and eight other government bodies issued a policy calling for the selection of model craftsmen in villages and detailing standards for qualified candidates in an effort to create a high-quality group of talent to help bolster the nation's rural development.

Celadon maker Zhang Xi has applied for the title of provincial-level model craftsman. The 51-year-old began learning celadon making in a wood-fired kiln — a traditional firing technique used to make Longquan celadon porcelain inscribed on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2009 — from his grandfather at age 18.

Although Zhang is an experienced, award-winning craftsman, he said he is a bit nervous because the competition for the title is fierce.

To have a shot at being named a model craftsman, he must demonstrate that he has mastered celadon making and has helped many local people earn money.

Zhang has won several awards in provincial-level competitions with his skills. He has set up his own workshop, recruited 10 apprentices and collaborated with a local vocational school to establish a celadon-making course to help train young people.

Every year, he fires up a wood kiln in Xitou village. After he finishes making the porcelain, he holds a ceremony to reveal the colors of his works, attracting hundreds of tourists to the village.

"Xitou village is now an attractive spot for visitors. The celadon making and our kiln opening ceremonies have contributed a lot to local tourism," Zhang said.

He said that if he is awarded the title of model craftsman, it would be a recognition of his hard work.

"It would be an honor, and I'll be proud of my job," he said.

There are many celadon makers like Zhang in Longquan, creating a booming industry for the craft. With the national-level policy to boost the cultivation of craftsmen in place, the industry will grow even more, said Chen Donggui, an official with the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Bureau of Longquan.

Chen said that if Zhang is named a model craftsman, he would be like a brand for the celadon industry and his influence would motivate workers in related fields, including material providers, potters and vessel makers.

This year, Chen assisted in the selection of candidates for model craftsmen in Longquan based on the policy issued. The city has seven candidates vying to be named provincial-level craftsmen, and not all of them are celadon or sword makers.

The national-level policy can be interpreted in different ways based on each area's own characteristics. Longquan chose two candidates who are engaged in mushroom cultivation — an industry that has been developing in recent years — and two who are e-commerce retailers.

"We hope to facilitate a more versatile development and help a wider range of workers," explained Chen.

There are more than 200 villages in Longquan. With many people migrating to work in cities, many villages are left with a few elderly people who are looking after the migrants' children.

Chen has seen many villages dissipate in the past decade. He regards policies under the rural vitalization strategy as key tools to help these villages prosper and attract people to come and stay.

The policy also stresses that the local government should support these model craftsmen financially by taking such measures as reducing their tax burdens, offering them preferential loans and teaching them how to sell their products online.

Chen said that Longquan purposely chose the e-commerce retailers as craftsmen candidates because a large portion of the products made in the city are sold online.

"I think the policy will have a far-reaching influence. These model craftsmen will help cultivate more good workers and lead their fellow villagers to a good life," he said.