The Skillful Craftsmen in Lingnan · The Guardians of Ancient Buildings | Manchurian Windows, Eyes of Lingnan Buildings
As the saying goes, eyes are the windows to the human soul. As for the ancient architecture in Lingnan, the opposite saying is also true: Manchurian windows are the eyes of buildings.
This pair of eyes can represent the artistic conception of Lingnan. Manchurian window is a kind of unique decorative art in Lingnan architecture. It integrates Chinese and Western cultures by adopting Chinese wooden latticework embedded with colored glass etchings, thus embodying the spiritual connotation of inclusiveness, integration and innovation in Lingnan culture.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to find such eyes nowadays. Recently, our journalists interviewed two of the few Manchurian window restorers and makers in Guangzhou to see how this pair of eyes of Lingnan buildings shines again via their dexterous hands.
Ludi Street near Chen Ancestral Temple is the quiet old Xiguan town in a noisy city, where Binqiang’s home is located. In addition to the vice chairman of Guangzhou Calligrapher’s Association, Mr. Ren has another lesser-known identity, a skilled artisan who has been engaged in Manchurian window fabrication for over one decade.
Painting, Guangcai porcelain and Manchurian windows filled Mr. Ren’s living space and constituted most of his life. 62-year-old Ren Binqiang began learning Chinese painting and calligraphy at the age of 15 from Lian Deng, a prestige painter in Lingnan. Mr. Ren has kept working hard for over 40 years and accumulated profound Chinese painting skills and artistic attainments. “I started making Guangcai porcelain in 1976, was dedicated to Guangcai porcelain for export in Zengcheng in 1996, and then began fabricating Manchurian windows in 2003.” Mr. Ren said.
Different from the patterns made by traditional craftsmen, Mr. Ren, a calligrapher and painter, pursues the delicacy of traditional Chinese paintings on glass to their fullest extent. “The previous division of labor was much segmented, with painters painting and craftsmen processing the glass according to the patterns. As a result, there was not that much creativity.” Mr. Ren is not only proficient in traditional Chinese painting but also masters the etching skills. Therefore, his window patterns are often of higher artistic level.
According to Mr. Ren, he has developed more of a playful mentality to amuse himself from painting and calligraphy to Manchurian window fabrication. Behind the word “play” are phrases “able to play” and “willing to play”. The phrase “willing to play” stems from his sense of mission to preserve this art form. There is no trace of Cantonese Manchurian windows outside Lingnan. It’s such a classical art form but few people are willing to engage in this art now. “Seeing this unique technique in Lingnan on the rope, I plan to try preserving it.” Mr. Ren said, “Craftsmanship works like a ‘worn-out cotton-padded cloth’. It may look shabby but at least can keep us away from cold wind.”
Yuyin Shanfang is an ancient Lingnan garden with a history of 150 years and one of the four famous gardens in Guangdong. The garden is located in Nancun Town of Panyu and 36 kilometers away from Panxi Restaurant.
It is by virtue of the exquisite crafts of Wu Guangbiao’s team that Yuyin Shanfang, a window of ancient gardens, thrives with new brilliance. Now, “Butterfly Flower”, “Kapok” and other Manchurian windows fabricated by Wu Guangbiao’s team have become new attractions in Yu Garden. As the sun shines through the hall, the sunlight and the shadows blends with each other, creating a splendid atmosphere. Many visitors are attracted by the colorful light and shadows projected on the floor and walls inside the house. That is where the charm of Manchurian windows lie.
The Manchurian window restoration project, which has connected Mr. Wu and Yuyin Shanfang, allows him to have an in-depth understanding of the value to respect traditions. In his opinion, “Only by respecting traditions, can we endow Manchurian windows with vitality.”
Manchurian windows, the product of integration between Chinese and Western cultures, have been cherished by wealthy merchants since the 19th century and become popular in Litchi Bay of Xiguan. Since the 19th century, an increasing number of designers in Guangzhou have integrated Manchurian windows into their designs, such as Guangzhou Museum and White Swan Hotel. Manchurian window restoration and fabrication artisans need to innovate and understand the entire history, plastic arts, design aesthetics, etc. of this art form in order to create new and better works, according to Ouyang Lun, a member of the Committee of Experts for the Preservation of Cultural Relics in Guangdong Province.
Source: Guangzhou Daily
Report planning: Qin Hui and Xiao Guilai
Author:Wu Duo , Xiao Guilai and Mo Weinong