Lion Costume Design: Carrying On A Family Tradition
Master Zhong Jiachao and his works. (Guangzhou Daily)
Traditional Cantonese Lion Dancing is an integral part of most Chinese festivals. It involves two performers dressed in a large lion costume whilst performing impressive acrobatic movements. The success of the show depends on two important elements: the acrobatic skills of the dancers and a colorful and elaborate lion costume. The most famous costume designer in Guangzhou is no doubt 62-year-old Zhong Jiachao. For five generations his family has owned Quansheng Lion Dance Supplies Shop, located in a typical Cantonese "Qilou" building on Daxin Road.
Zhong Jiachao has been making lion costumes for decades as well as other accessories and even instruments such as drums, cymbals and gongs. But though he enjoys a great reputation, his shop has seen ups and downs in its history.
Zhong and his family. (Guangzhou Daily)
Zhong's family started making lion costumes in the late Qing Dynasty but it wasn't until Zhong's father opened the shop in the 1930s that business started to thrive. At that time Lion Dancing was so popular that all the shops along Daxin Road were selling lion costumes and accessories. However, with the Japanese invasion and the Second World War (1937-1945), the times were not for celebration and soon many shops closed. The end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 meant the recovery of Lion Dancing and it was during these years that Zhong Jiachao learned his trade. But this period of peace didn't last long and soon the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) proved to be disastrous for Lion Dancing and its supporting industry. All the shops closed and the craft began to die away. The 1980s brought great changes to China. Zhong, believing that Lion Dancing can only thrive in a world at peace, returned to Daxin Road in 1984 and reopened his father's shop. His efforts have paid-off and in 2009, the local government announced it would support the lion costume industry.
Today, the old man is preparing to retire after a life dedicated to preserving his family and regional culture. He has been successful and tells us he will retire a happy man, especially knowing his two daughters have decided to take over the business. "Their skills are even better than mine" he says. His daughters are integrating new modern materials into this traditional craft, giving it a new life for the pleasure of future generations.
Name: Quan Sheng Lion Dancing Costume Shop
Ad: No 322, Daxin Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou
(By Estella Wang, David Keyton)