Hand-Made Chopsticks, An Exquisite Family Tradition
Exquisite hand-made chopsticks (Guangzhou Daily)
"Making chopsticks is no easy job. Cutting the sticks alone requires 7 different procedures and 3 years to learn. Whilst mechanization seeks speed, handicraft seeks greater perfection and traditional connotations." by Xian Lianguang, the last hand-made chopstick-maker in Guangzhou.
Xian Lianguang is 59-year-old and for decades has been sitting on a wooden stool in front of his tiny 7 square-meter shop located at No.175, Tiancheng Road in Yuexiu District Guangzhou. Every now and then a customer will stop and search amongst the huge variety of chopsticks for a set that suits him best. The chopsticks sold here are made of ebony, mahogany, pontianak wood, scented wood and red sandal wood.
Xian Lianguang and his chopsticks (Guangzhou Daily)
Although Xian is a talented wooden furniture maker, he takes pride first of all in his chopstick-making skills. Making chopsticks is a family tradition started 3 generations ago. His grandfather opened the business back in 1889 by using the spare wood leftover when making a piece of furniture. With such a family background, by the age of 8-years-old, Xian was already a talented woodworker.
Every pair of chopsticks sold in Xian's store is hand-made with a precise shape and size. But in the past years and with the value given to traditions slowly fading away, business is becoming scarce.
"Nobody in Guangzhou produces chopsticks by hand anymore. My store is probably the last one selling hand-made chopsticks in the district." Xian said.
"To make chopsticks is no easy task and every penny is hard-earned: there is no quick money in this profession." he said, referring to the 7 procedures required and which can take up to 3 years to fully master.
According to Xian, the secret to a good pair of fine chopsticks lies in choosing high-quality wood. Compared to industrial chopsticks, certain rules set by tradition have to be followed scrupulously. A chopstick must measure 26.8 cm long and have a square tail which symbolizes a promising future. The round head must measure 5 mm in diameter.
Xian told our reporter that "without proper training, even a carpenter specialized in making furniture cannot make a pair of eligible chopsticks. Those who are familiar with these skills can make a pair chopstick within 5 to 10 minutes whilst those with no training will need at least 30 minutes and they still won't be able to guarantee that each stick is of the same size."
The price of chopsticks depends on the materials used. A pair made out of Indian red sandal wood can cost over 100RMB whilst some can be as cheap as 2 Yuan if they were made with pontianak wood. Some also believe the different woods have different health benefits. Ebony is thought to protect people against sore throats whilst red sandal wood will rid you of headaches.
Although Xian lives in a world where everything is going faster and few people understand the beauty of his work, the old man still believes in a bright future for hand-made chopsticks, a future where handicrafts find a place to be respected.
(By Su Shaoxuan, David Keyton)