He sold his house in Beijing to film disappearing Chinese craftsmanship. However, this movie was denied broadcast by 20 TV stations, just because the people under the lens are too real.


Photo: pintchina

This is a non-mainstream documentary.

After being denied by more than 20 TV stations once, the film was finally broadcast even the comment by the director himself was very disappointing. “First off, it’s too rustic ”.

“The photographer and sound engineer are not experienced at all”

“without any directing skills ”

“the music is monotonous.....”


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However, this “freak” documentary recently attracted much attention on the Bilibili video website. It drew more than 70,000 hits in ten days. Also, it received a 8.7 high grade in Douban. Many people cried even while watching it a second time again two days later.

“Plain, warm, down to earth”

That are the most common words in the film’s reviews because what The Search for Craftsmanship records are obscure folk craftsmen. Their life is slow, slow to use their lifetime to do one job well. However, If we don’t hurry to record their life maybe it will be too late.


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In Yunnan, the director sheds tears for the first time during filming at the sight of an 80-year-old man who makes umbrellas.

Kanwen, he keeps constant over many decades leaning against a wall, making umbrellas.


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The old man uses the cotton thread to consolidate the frame which is break off for 8 times. Every time he is in a daze then anxious to try the next time till the end becomes very downhearted.

Director says:

“There is nothing to cry about, but every time I watch, I cry.”


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To make an umbrella, there are dozens of procedures. All the material is only bamboo、paper、cotton thread. Kanwen relies on his years of experience to make umbrellas. However he will become too old to continue his craft.


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After the film was uploaded to the Blibili video website in April this year some people sent private messages to the director to express their desire to buy the umbrellas made by the old man. The director gathered 20 pieces, but when he contacts the old man’s family he is informed that Kanwen has passed away. Nobody will make these umbrellas anymore.


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In the Xiaohuang village of Guizhou two grannies are making paper in an extremely simple way. This is also the last time they making paper this way in their lives. They cannot do anymore as the raw material is no longer available. This also means the local paper making technology will also be lost.


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After filming them making the paper director asks to write down their name and takes some photos for them. These two wrinkled grannies are particularly happy. They grin from ear to ear and say:

“our name will go to Beijing”

Our photo will go to Beijing too”

Even if the name go to Beijing is good enough.”


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These two grannies make paper quietly for their whole life. When their names and photos are recorded during filming, they are as pleased as small children. After the documentary was broadcast on the Bilibili video website, there are great comments written by many people, saying that:

“granny, you have gone to Beijing”

“already gone to Shanghai”

“already gone to Guangzhou”

“already gone to New York”

Uncle Tu Er Xun Jiang, who makes pottery, says their house has more than 400 years of history. Developers come to confiscate his land in exchange for 12 flats, but he refused. He didn’t care how much money could earn. He just wants to leave more pottery in the world.


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"The house left by my ancestors cannot be ruined in my generation, the ancestral craftsmanship cannot be lost in my hand.”


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When making pottery, uncle climbs up and down in the kiln. But when he puts the last batch of pottery into the kiln, uncle suddenly starts to complain in front of the camera. He is worrying that if one day he is not here, the pottery will gradually disappear.


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A 21-year-old handsome boy began to engrave scriptures from the age of 13.


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When the film crew asks him. “Will you earn more when you engrave more? “ He shakes his head at once and says: "No, No, I should curve it carefully, slowly, take good care of this board, otherwise, I will feel guilty".


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Ms Shi began to knit waistbands when she was 18 and has never stopped for forty years. Only 5-6 articles can be completed every year, which she will sell in the market at an asking price of 100RMB. People often bargain to reduce the price to 65-80RMB. When she is asked whether weaving is tiring and difficult or not, Ms Shi answers without hesitation:

“If you know how to make, you will not think it difficult. If you like it, then you will not feel tired, you will feel tired only when you dislike it. "


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In Shangdong Sishui, the director is filming the earthenware craftsman Liu XinWen. There is a conspicuous brief note stick on the door especially marking “the last succession” after his name. Why he calls himself the last Sishui earthenware succession is because once there were hundreds of households making earthenware, and now he is the only one left.


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When doing film post-editing, the director hesitates not to put Liu Xinwen into the feature film. “He is almost a microcosm of Chinese traditional craftsmanship and craftsmen; it’s too dismal, when I look at him, a chill will come to my heart.”


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In Sichuang Xide County, the biggest local lacquer factory has been closed. This place once was well known for the Yi lacquer ware only by combining red, yellow, black three colors, a brightly colored vessel will be drawn out.


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Jiwu wuge is the sole heiress of Jiwu family lacquer ware business. She has been fond of lacquer ware since she was 6 or 7 years old. Under the careful instruction from her father her technique has much surpassed her predecessors. However, the reality that defeats the lacquer factory in Xide county also defeats Jiwu wuge. 


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After the lacquer factory is closed, the father no longer lets his daughter to suffer the pain of making lacquer ware and ask her to get teacher certification. Now she becomes a primary school teacher only coming back to support father on weekends and holidays. She tells the director, actually what she deeply loves is lacquer ware.


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In Sichuang Sujing, It seems that the demand of sand vessels exceeds supply. However, fewer and fewer people are willing to accept the order. “The buyers bargain to keep the price very low, the craftsmen gain a profit less than 1 RMB from each sand vessel.”


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Even in a street that full of stores of sand vessels, the number of craftsmen has dropped from hundreds to over twenty and their average age is about 50 because the profit is too low. The young can not calm down to make sand vessels In the hot sand kiln. The man who has been sweating says:

“After ten or twenty years, Sujing sand vessel will disappear. ”


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In the desert wasteland, the film crew study Huda Baidier. He is herding sheep far away and so happy when seeing some guests come to visit him. He cooks half of the egg from his home.


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He is a shepherd and also a folk artist. His music plays to the heart. He can make and play folk instruments such as Balaman, Gerp, Datal.


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"No people within 90 km to the north, within 8 km to the south, within 11km to the west, the voice of Zurna, centered by Huda Baidier heals the entire desert wasteland.”


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Huda Baidier’s craftsmanship is disappearing. His son never learn how to make an instrument even can’t play a musical note.


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These craftsmen tell the story of their life by alluses and sweat. Also in their lifetime they experience the traditional craft "from being to vanishing" .


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They never care what craftsmanship spirit they just simply work hard is. Director says after finishing the documentary, he fells ashamed "I am sorry to mention the word of dream again."

Although at the beginning he sells his house in Beijing for film, that is for his dream. Because the budget is limited, he can not afford professional person. Not only the photographer is temporarily served by the driver, but also the sound engineers have to part-time lighting effect and outreach and shooting equipment is second-hand.

Director not only handle photography work but also do the post production by himself 50 times editing after filming. No money for promotion when it’s finished “Normally it spends a huge amount to do film promotion, but I don’t have a penny for that.”


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Being denied by TV station, the profit of <seek for craftsmanship> cannot even cover the cost but director says:

“Many people watch this movie, it is good enough.”

To sell a house in order to film more than 100 craftsmen, leaving precious video and text. It’s worth.”


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Gorky once said, the disappearance of a craftsmanship symbolizes the vanish of a small museum. The craftsmen persevere not only for living, but also for the cultural inheritance.


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Times change and nobody can stop it. We only hope these craftsmen can be known by more and more people. Maybe more attention to them, these craftsmanship will disappear slower.


Photo: pintchina