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Despite cancer, man watching over endangered arts

05-23-2011 15:29 BJT

QINGDAO - Pang Huanjian carefully wipes his wooden molds with a soft tissue. A lung cancer patient, the 60 year-old is worried most not about his illness, but about who will take care of these "treasures" after his death.

Made of wood, stone or tin, Chinese molds of wheaten food were used to make various figures like fish, peach or characters with auspicious meanings for weddings, birthdays and festivals. The tradition of making and using such molds dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).

Collecting traditional molds of wheaten food from childhood, Pang has more than 7,000 molds. Their sizes vary, from 50 cm to 1 cm.

"Few young people use these molds now, and the artworks engraved by our ancestors' hands will be just packages of wood and become mildewed," says Pang from Qingdao, a humid seaside city in East China's Shandong province. "They are so beautiful that I feel great pain to let them just go moldy and die away this way."

"When ancient people started to use molds, they didn't eat wheaten food just for hunger any more, but for ancestor worship, festival gifts and blessings," Pang explains.

For example, eating steamed bread in the figure of fish is meant to be a prayer for having abundant food every year, as the pronunciation of fish, "yu", sounds the same as "abundant" in Chinese.

In this regard, one can learn the progress of Chinese culture of wheaten food over the last 1,300 years by learning about these molds, Pang says.

However, "This traditional folk art will be extinct soon if no one pays attention to it and no youngster would like to learn to make them," says Pang, holding a taupe mold with tears in his eyes.

Born in Jiaonan city of Shandong, Pang enjoyed making wheaten food with delicate molds on festivals with his grandmother, and as a child he even "stole" his grandmother's molds to play with mud by the riverside.

"It was amazing to put some dough into a mold and litchi, a basket of flowers and ingot will come out of it," he says recalling his childhood.

Pang started to collect molds of wheaten food when he was 18, as he saw fewer and fewer of them being used. A journey to the Republic of Korea (ROK) further inspired him to carry on the work.

Managing a company trading calligraphies and paintings, Pang was invited to the ROK in 2005 to promote the sailing games of Qingdao for the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games.

"While staying at the hotel in the country, I saw some traditional Chinese molds of wheaten food on display in the lobby," Pang recalls.

"I felt both excited and depressed as I found our own folk arts, that are almost extinct, were well preserved in a foreign country."

Since then, Pang began collecting molds. He purchased them from markets and collectors in Shandong and asked peddlers for help in other provinces.

Pang gathered more than 5,300 molds in one year, and the total number reached over 7,000 pieces in 2010.

After he had collected so many molds, Pang developed a plan to open a museum. "I think it is time for people to know the value of these treasures," he said.

However, preparations for the museum had just begun when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2008.

"I don't want these exquisite artworks to die away with me," Pang says, lamenting that his son is not interested in the collection.

"I hope I could find some people who like folk arts and are willing to carry on the museum thing," Pang says. "I'm still working on it."

Editor:Du Xiaodan |Source: China Daily

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