Affiliated to Quanzhou, Fujian Province, Anxi County is home to Tieguanyin, covering an area of 3,057 square kilometers with a population of 1.2 million. It is a famous home to overseas Chinese and Taiwan compatriots. Over the past forty years of reform and opening up, three phases of social and economic development have been achieved by leaps and bounds in Anxi, lifting itself out of poverty towards general Xiaokang ( a Chinese term, originally of Confucianism, used to describe a society composed of a functional middle-class), and in tum made its name among the National Top 100 Counties. For many years in a row, Anxi has been in the ranks of National Top 100 Counties and the Top 100 Counties for Investment Potentials.
Anxi boasts itself as City of Rattan-Iron Crafts of China, enjoying a prestige both home and abroad for its elaborate techniques, huge scale, wide product range and profound influences. PresidentXi Jinping inquired and researched about Anxi's rattan-iron industry during his tenure in Fujian as the governor.
Anxi rattan-iron craft stems from bamboo and rattan weaving techniques. Anxi is an important agricultural county with profound agrarian civilisation. As. noted in Anxi County Anna/son the Five Dynasties, "Be it stands or stores, trade is prosperous. Be it bamboo scoops or baskets, people make a living." This indicates that bamboo products were household appliances and trade commodities for Anxi people since the foundation of this county. The carving of bamboo utensils remained in Anxi Confucius Temple, a cultural relic listed for state protections, manifests Anxi people's wisdom and industriousness and reflects the unique position of rattan bamboo craft in the local culture. In 2014, Anxi rattan weaving techniques were listed as National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Anxi bamboo and rattan weaving is known as "magic on fingertips", passed down by generations of local craftsmen. It boasts 14 classes of over 40 categories of screens, cages, fences and lanterns, intricate in techniques, practical in usage and beautiful for appreciation. In 1962, more than 30 items of rattan and bamboo products, designed by the local craftsman Chen Qinghe, served as state gifts during Chairman Liu Shaoqi' s visit to Eastern Europe. Since reform and opening up, Anxi rattan and bamboo products have been major handicrafts for export.
Innovations have been constantly made on the basis of inheritance. In the 1990s, metal and rattan strings were first woven together by the local craftsmen, combining hardness and softness intricately. Thus a new form of art came into being-- "the rattan-iron craft". Centred on bamboo and rattan weaving, framed with metal materials, "the rattan-iron craft" is the rational merge of traditional folk art and metal techniques, the combination of craftsmanship and inspiration, with artistic creativity as its soul. The carriers of this new form of art range from the traditional bamboo, rattan, straws, wood, and metal, to the emerging materials of ceramics, resin and magnesium oxide, making over 100,000 styles of bamboo rattan weaving, awn weaving, rayon flowers and iron flowers. Its artistry is characterised by the gentle nimbleness of bamboo and rattan, the resilience and durance of metal, the simple natural practicality and the aesthetic creativity. It is inheritance, preservation and extension of traditional Chinese craft, as well as supplementary and innovation to the trade of craft art. It bears high value in practicality, decoration and artistry, the embodiment of cultural inheritance and legends.
"Rattan-iron craft" spread from Anxi to other parts of Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang and Guangxi, making a major product for export. Every year at China Import and Export Fair, an exclusive area is set for Anxi rattan-iron crafts, displaying home decorations, garden furniture and Christmas gifts, which assimilate Chinese traditions with Christmas and Halloween culture, reflect the world fads and beautify thousands of homes and businesses, liked by overseas clients.
Rattan-iron craft is a trade that lifted the local people out of poverty. It can be practiced anywhere with handy materials. The small workshops have provided employment for the rural population and increased their income. This industry has contributed significantly to the poverty alleviation of Anxi, turning it from a poor county of the national level to one of the Top 100 Counties in China. According to statistics, among the 1.2 million Anxi people, over 150,000 work directly in rattan-iron industry; more than 400,000 are in lines related to this industry. Hand weaving and crafts accounts for 70% of the local people's income. Of the 150,000 people in this trade, R&D designers take up 7%, sales 12%, craftsmen 23% and industrial workers 58% -a rational and well balanced proportion of talents in this trade.
Great emphasis is attached to cultivating talents so as to improve the folk craftsmen and facilitate industrial upgrading and transforming. First, borrowing wisdom. Anxi insists on increasing partnerships between universities and regional government, as well as between universities and companies. Education and experiment bases have been established and resources of R&D, education and production have been combined by cooperating with Graduate School at Shenzhen Tsinghua University, Xiamen Academy of Arts and Design Fuzhou University. In particular, the seminar co-organized by Anxi and Graduate School at Shenzhen, Tsinghua University, is of great help in developing entrepreneurs and designers. Famous artists home and abroad, Xi Jianjun, Chen Wenling, Su Xinping, Zhan Wang, Xiang Jing and Peter (from Germany) have been invited to work and give exhibitions here, in order to enhance international exchanges and cooperation of rattan-iron art. Second, enhancing skills by competitions. Contests like The Craftsmanship Cup On-site Creation Competition and the Anxi Craftsmen (Rattan-iron Craft) Challenge have been held to meet the goal of using competitions for better training, education and management.
Companies are encouraged to enter for domestic and international competitions of design and works. More than 120 items have won prizes in professional competitions such as Flowers Cup and Golden Phoenix Cup. Many craftsmen have distinguished themselves in this, inspiring each other and improve together. Third, masters influence. Artists, craftspeople, and talents with managerial skills in the crafts and arts industry are encouraged to apply for professional titles at municipal, provincial and national levels, as well as master and high-level talent qualifications. ChenQinghe has been appraised as a National Model Worker and Successor of the National Intangible Culture Heritage. Chen Minghui and 39 others have been recognized as rattan craft artists. 13 including Huang Lianfuhave been assessed as provincial and municipal model worker. Anxi also has 14 qualified crafts and arts masters and celebrities at different levels, 13 Quanzhou high-level talents and outstanding craftsmen, who will have significant influence as art masters. Fourth, technique inheritance. Chenli Vocational School Anxi and Huaqiao Vocational School have been supported to opencrafts and arts majors, model worker innovative work bases in Huaqiao Vocational School have been built, and bamboo and rattan national Intangible Cultural Heritage workshops have been set up, making use of technical masters and crafts and arts masters, apprenticeships, project research, creative design, salons created an environment of mentorship and apprenticeship that cultivated over 3,000 technical talents for the home crafts enterprises.