How to enrich your children’s summer vacation is always a question that leaves parents scratching their heads. But fear not, China Art and Crafts Museum might just provide the answer to that head-scratching vacation headache.
The museum is hosting an immersive Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) themed exhibition with a dozen time-honored crafts geared toward kids.
History and its craft making process is introduced through the medium of multi-media and organizers provide every visitor with a bag of raw materials and ask them to make them into handicrafts.
When Hangzhou was made China’s capital during the Southern Song Dynasty, the city was covered with stores selling a wide range of products, from scissors and fans to woodblock printed books and embroidery.
City archives reveal Hangzhou gathered several top-notch artisans from across the country who thrived in a myriad of workshops. Exhibition facilitators have selected a dozen of these considered to typify the prosperity of Hangzhou in the Southern Song era.
The circular fans’ booth is always packed with children and, since the whole process is so sophisticated, the museum provide finished products and kids only need to paint the surface of them.
The importance of fans for the male literati in ancient China was akin to hairpins for women. Fans became a common medium for artists, who wrote calligraphy and painted on the surface, expressing their ambitions and life attitude. Artists had to adjust the layout of their paintings to accommodate the shape of a fan.
Usually, a fan painting included calligraphy, an ink drawing and a Chinese seal.
Emperor Song Huizong (1082-1135) of the Northern Song Dynasty, a great painter who occupies a significant place in Chinese art history, was a big proponent of fan painting. And, because of this, circular fan painting became an independent art and developed quickly. The craft form has evolved over the centuries and is still considered an indispensable part of Chinese art.
The embroidery booth is more popular with the girls. This craft requires years of practice. Therefore, kids are given the simplest patterns to make in the company of their parents.
Hangzhou has a long tradition of embroidery and is famed for its own intricate and time-consuming style. Hand-made embroidery is considered a typical representation of Chinese traditional crafts. With an abundance of silk and an ancient tradition of needlework, Hangzhou has developed its own variety of the skill.
During the Southern Song Dynasty the city became home to craftsmen and craftswomen making embroidered robes for emperors and officials.
One concubine of Emperor Song Gaozong (1107-1187) was a renowned embroidery expert and her work was later collected by the Museum of London.
Another craft popular with visitors is traditional dyeing. Lan yin hua bu originated in the Southern Song Dynasty and boomed during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
At the time, people in the Yangtze River Delta found they could use the common indigo plant to dye white cotton fabric dark blue.
The colors and patterns were simple and plain compared to what is available now, but locals began to make these batik-like textiles for commoners.
Patterns on clothes would vary according to different stages of life. When people married, the bride’s dowry was wrapped in lan yin hua bu. When a child was born, the newborn would be put in clothes made of lan yin hua bu with patterns of god protecting the baby against evil.
In addition to crafts, the exhibition has set up booths to replicate life scenes on the streets during the Southern Song Dynasty, in a bid to reflect prosperity of Hangzhou.
One booth is ornamented with traditional lanterns in an effort to restore the ambience of the Lantern Festival in ancient times.
Among all the festivals enjoyed by the people of Hangzhou, the Lantern Festival was the most visually pleasing as the lanterns created a kaleidoscope of colors. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, marking the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
Vivid depictions of festive scenes were recorded in historic archives during the Southern Song Dynasty.
The Lantern Festival celebrations became more grand than ever during that period as people flocked to the streets to admire ornate lanterns and try to guess riddles written on them.
Except for street decorations, festival celebrations also included ceremonial feasts.
During the Southern Song Dynasty locals had already created multifarious Hangzhou-style food.
Organizers used chemical materials to produce perfect copies of real dishes.
At the time, common food on a local’s table was Dongpo pork, West Lake vinegar fish, Dingsheng rice cake, stuffed lotus root and baozi (steamed buns). They are still popular with diners today. Some of them came into being during the Southern Song Dynasty.
Dingsheng rice cake is made of glutinous al dente fragrant rice powder wrapped around sweetened bean paste. As the Chinese name literally means “certain victory,” it’s often eaten to bring luck.
It is said the cake was created in the Southern Song to give courage to the soldiers of the Yue army, led by general Yue Fei, best known for leading the defense of the Southern Song against invaders from the Jurchen-ruled Jin kingdom in northern China.
The cake has survived through the centuries, and although it no longer has Chinese characters written on it, many residents believe that eating it before exams can bring good luck.
Date: Through October 27, closed on Mondays
Address: 334 Xiaohe Rd
Admission: 50 yuan (US$7.3) for per adult; free for kids below 0.9 meters; 80 yuan for an adult and a child below 1.5 meters.