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Community Economy
Where We Work: National and Urban

Understanding Uncle Wu, understanding handicraft

By Ding Huarong (CSA Intern)

Eighty-year-old Uncle Wu is still healthy and strong. He drinks one or two catties of rice wine every day. Optimistic and easygoing, the master of handmade fuzhu [1] prefers local soybeans, and insists on broiling his fuzhu over the fire and drying them in the sun. He never uses bleaching agent. The fuzhuhe produces look great and taste great. After 20 years of making fuzhu, Uncle Wu has developed his own set of skills that makes his products very popular. His supply often falls short of the demand.

A question keeps coming up in my mind: why is he so passionate about traditional, handmade fuzhu? Making fuzhuis laborious and painstaking. He has to stay up all night all the time but he does not earn that much from it. What is it that keeps him going? What has made him persist for more than two decades?

Consumer support helps a craft live on

It might be the support of a group of loyal consumers. Not only is Uncle Wu free from worries about making a living, he is also proud of his craft. Every time he talks about fuzhu, he always says proudly, "The fuzhu I make have no problems when they're boiled!" After learning fuzhu making with Uncle Wu for some time, I think I understand why he keeps making fuzhu.

Uncle Wu uses 32 catties of soy beans everyday. That means 9,600 catties a year. Uncle Wu not only makes a living from it, he also helps boost the cultivation of local soy beans and preserve the traditional craft. In the fuzhu factories we have visited, modern machines have replaced manual labour. To keep up with mass demand, chemical additives are added to increase output and to reduce the price. However, human beings do not need a lot to live. What mechanisation brings is wastage and over-consumption. Uncle Wu stands firm against tricks and fraud. Thanks to his perseverance, the craft of fuzhu making in this area is preserved. By insisting on using local soy beans, he safeguards our health. Thanks to him, we know the genuine flavour of fuzhu.

Handicraft as livelihood and heritage

Traditional handicrafts are excellent livelihood skills. Many generations of people have supported themselves with traditional handicrafts. The improvement and refinement of a handicraft is the result of the painstaking efforts of generations of people. But nowadays the transmission of most handicrafts has been interrupted. Even children of artisans are not willing to learn and pass on the essence of livelihoods handed down by their ancestors, such as the crafts of making fuzhu and ginger candies. The crafts of handmade rice noodles, stone grinding and bamboo basket weaving are facing a similar threat, of being shunned simply because they are unable to adapt to the impacts brought by urban values. Determined to preserve these handicrafts, Ainonghui [2] not only give artisans such as Uncle Wu their due respect, but also help them to launch handicraft workshops, to pass on their craft. For example, workshops on making fuzhu, brewing wine and pressing sugar have been hosted by Zuo Jianpo and Tan Jianqiu respectively. I also hosted a workshop on making fuzhu, in the ancient town of Yangmei.

Handicrafts should not be left in museums for visitors to reminisce about. They should live on in our everyday life. In fact, some university students now see artisanry as a career. Not only does it provide an income, it also preserves traditional ways of life of ordinary people and provides the practitioner with a boundless sense of fulfillment.

Building a beautiful life with handicraft

In April 2011, with the help of Ainonghui, Zuo Jianbo, a young village returnee, Guo Hai, a CSA intern and I began to plan a business project, "The Fuzhu Household". A workshop to make fuzhu is to be opened in the old house of Zuo's uncle at Maliang Village in Jinji Township, Wuxuan County. The products will be provided to Tusheng Liangpin Restaurant. Local soy beans will be harvested, by orphans and by children of single-parent families, from the teaching station of Longwan New Village at Dahua. Through this supply chain, we hope to support novice artisans, farmers growing local soy beans, children of the teaching station as well as consumers. We also hope to revive the cultivation of local soy beans, to resist large-scale mono-crop cultivation, and to help reduce the risks facing farmers.

Handicraft is a means of livelihood as well as a heritage. I am sure artisans of traditional handicrafts will be able to pick up their crafts and skills with pride again. I am also sure that more and more people will learn and inherit all kinds of handicrafts. Traditional handicrafts have developed over generations because of local needs. They have long been part of the local culture.

I look forward to the day when more people join in the learning and transmitting of handicrafts. I believe this day will be here sooner or later!

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Uncle Wu prefers local soybeans, and insists on broiling his fuzhu over the fire and drying them in the sun.
Local soy beans will be harvested, by orphans and by children of single-parent families, from the teaching station of Longwan New Village at Dahua.
CSA interns are picking up the skills of traditional fuzhu making from Uncle Wu.
Wholeheartedly making every piece offuzhu.
Uncle Wu uses traditional stone mill to make soybean milk.
 

 


Note:

  1. Translator's note: rolls of dried beancurd strips.
  2. In 2004, a group of urban consumers from Liuzhou in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region set up Ainonghui. Since then, they have been using CSA to bring together consumers and encourage small farmers to collaborate and help each other in developing the local agriculture. In the city, they make use of alternative means to help farmers to market their clean agricultural products, produced with local agricultural methods. Ainonghui is also a platform for youth training. It encourages young people to start their own ventures in the field of CSA. Ainonghui runs a restaurant and organizes community

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