I am Liuyu. The seventh in my family to inherit the business of Beijing Liaoqi. I have been studying the art for 25 years, since 1990.
My mother, Xing Lanxiang, is a master of Beijing Liaoqi, and has been making it for over 50 years. As the sixth person in my family to work in Beijing Liaoqi, she is familiar with all forms of the art. In order to make sure I took over from her, she first taught me how to make Liaoqi when I was a child. It was 1990 when I first starting working with it and fell in love with it right away.
The earliest recorded documentation of Beijing Liaoqi dates back 600 years. Back then, it was used only for royal family. The bead on top of an official's hat was made of Beijing Liaoqi, and different designs were used to distinguish how high up they were. Since then, many other kinds of Liaoqi were created, for instance, these flowers behind me.
"When designs like this get dirty, we often use this kind of brush to sweep ashes on them. And then we just fix them up by hand."
All you need are tweezers and scissors when making Liaoqi. Once the material is hot, you sculpt it by using different tweezing techniques. The whole thing must be made in one go, and you can't stop to rest, otherwise the work will be ruined.
The process starts after cutting the materials. Then we ignite the flame. Then we start to sculpt. We call this step Denggong. Right now we are making a Chinese cabbage. This is the main part. Here I have started to make the head of cabbage, then we will move on to the leaves. The leaves are difficult to make because they are very intricate and you can't go back and make corrections.
After shaping the Liaoqi, we cool down it in sand. The color of Liaoqi changes during the heating process. Only after cooling down, will its original color return.
Chinese cabbage stands for "fortune" in China. It is the most famous and popular Beijing Liaoqi piece. Many customers come to us especially for a Chinese cabbage.
The hardest element of making a cabbage shaped Liaoqi is the tiny beetle on it. This minuscule detail requires three kinds of material.
I bought my friend a monkey shaped Liaoqi piece last time, one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. They liked it very much. I also bought them one of the famous Chinese cabbages.They asked me to get them another so that's why I am here.
Beijing Liaoqi often comes in animal and plant shapes. These designs are the most popular for overseas customers. Over the years, more and more ideas have sprung up. A lot of our inspiration and ideas come from our customers. They often show us photos on their phones, or show us a pictures in magazine with their ideas for designs. Many recent mainstream works come from similar sources of inspiration. Some customers don't really know what they want, but by having a chat with them and using our expertise, we aim to give them something they will like. Other Liaoqi shapes take inspiration from famous Chinese antiques like the Royal Dragon or the Jade Pig Dragon.
Every week I will take orders from different areas. Customers send me pictures on WeChat and by e-mail. I want to focus on quality over quantity. So I willingly accept ideas for customized pieces.
Alright, now hold it vertically. Put it in the fire and heat up the root. Pinch it tight and turn it round. That's right. Let me show you how to shape this gourd here. Roll it in the fire and make the shape. Yeah, that's it. Great job. Perfect.
So far, inheriting this business has been difficult. Young people these days are too fickle to learn a traditional Chinese handicraft. Of course I hope Liaoqi can be handed down forever. I have already taught my child the basics, and she is starting to like it more and more. I hope she can be the eighth master of Beijing Liaoqi in our family. And I hope that the craft becomes increasingly popular all over the world.