By Li Rui, People’s Daily
Wicker weaving, a Chinese national intangible cultural heritage, has been well developed into an industry in Boxing county, Binzhou, east China’s Shandong province, contributing to rural vitalization.
The online sales of wicker products reported by the county’s Wantou village alone reached 460 million yuan ($63.92 million) in 2020. Over 10,000 people were directly engaged in the business, and the business also created more than 60,000 relevant jobs for residents from surrounding villages.
In 2021, Wantou was honored as a “million-yuan village” by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which meant its collective income from the featured business notched up 1 million yuan.
Boxing County made its name as a major base of wicker production. Its history of wicker weaving dates back more than 800 years ago. Wicker weaving has long been a traditional industry in the county.
Wicker products made in the county are soft, economical and environmentally friendly. They carry distinctive local features and styles, and the technique was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in May 2011.
In recent years, a group of craftspeople in the county have worked to improve wicker weaving skills and make their products more innovative. As a result, the old craft has taken on a new look.
For instance, craftsman JiaLiuyuan from Boxing weaved over 10,000 burr puzzles with wicker and made them into a huge lantern as tall as a person. Later, the septuagenarian made a series of delicate handicrafts using wicker, such as weaved tigers, pavilions and ancient structures.
Wicker weaving is not only used to make handicrafts. It is also employed in construction. The Spanish Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 held in Shanghai was an example. It had a wicker facade over a steel structure, which made it look like waves from a distance and a basket from above.
This huge “basket” was weaved by Sun Jianguang from Chongde village, Boxing County, with numerous slices of wicker in 2009. The precision was controlled at a millimeter level, and the work went through 10 procedures such as antiseptic treatment, drying and shaping.
Instead of employing traditional techniques, Sun developed new ones and tackled a series of challenges in anticorrosion and fireproofing. The whole project took Sun and his team three months and consumed 120 tons of wicker.
When the facade was completed, Sun said their efforts were worthwhile because they presented wicker weaving to the world.
After the World Expo 2010 concluded, Sun kept digging into wicker weaving skills for green and innovative construction. He used his new techniques in B&B buildings, festive archways and sculptures in scenic areas.
“I must keep innovating to instill more cultural connotation in architecture and revitalize the culture of wicker weaving,” Sun said.
Apart from making innovations in wicker products, craftspeople in Boxing County have also expanded the promotion and sales channels of their products through e-commerce. Villagers are now selling their products via online shops and livestream platforms, which also helps expand the influence of the traditional skill.
Over recent years, Boxing County has built a grass and wicker weaving-themed industrial park and inked cooperative agreements with universities and colleges to jointly develop featured wicker products.
The industrial park is listed as an internship base for university students, where senior craftspeople would give lectures to students.
It is also a complex that works as both an exhibition area and a processing base, and gathers a number of e-commerce companies and express service centers. Generating creative ideas, it is injecting new impetus into the development of the wicker weaving industry.