Xiashi Town in northern Zhejiang Province has been a lantern-making center since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). In fact, during ancient times the town’s colorfully painted lanterns were sent to the royal court as tributes.
After centuries of development, this craft was inscribed onto the list of national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.
According to historical documents, when the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) lifted night-time curfews, this created a demand for lanterns. In response, Xiashi’s lantern trade thrived and continues to burn strong into the present day.
Ample local supplies of bamboo provide Xiashi artisans with the raw material for making their famed lanterns. Craftspeople use bamboo strips to produce lantern structures in various sizes and shapes.
What makes Xiashi lanterns so unique are their ornate designs and intricate hand-coloring. Xiashi lanterns are beloved among the people of Zhejiang, and local craftsmen regularly receive orders from across the province.
In recent years, a number of senior craftsmen passed away, bringing a great loss to this local tradition. In a bid to cultivate young talent, the local government has established a workshop focused on cultural innovation and protection.
Last year, Hu Jinlong was named as a national cultural heritage “inheritor” thanks to his superb skill in making lanterns. Hu has been dedicated to this craft for more than 40 years and is now switching focus to teach young craftspeople.
To promote his craft to the public, Hu donated four works to Zhejiang government. In the future, these lanterns will be displayed in galleries and museums.
Local artisans have also been invited to cultural exchange fairs overseas, exhibiting lanterns in New Zealand, Greece and Singapore.
Those interested in learning more should visit Haining County Museum, where they can watch how these beautiful lanterns are made.