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To trace last group of Lacquer Farmers in Northwestern Hunan

Editor:Sharon Lee
Updated:2010/2/21 10:26:32

Lacquerware was widely used in Chinese people¡¯s daily life in those ancient days. To make lacquerware, people reap natural sap from lacquer trees. As the sap is mainly made up of urushiol, laccase, gumminess and moisture, it has properties of moisture resistance, thermostability, corrosion resistance and so on. It is then made into different colors and applied to the surfaces of various goods, creatingcolored wares for daily use or dazzling handicrafts and art.

Lacquerware boasts a long history. According to relevant records, lacquer wares had already been used in the Xia Dynasty under the reign of Yu (the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty, best remembered for teaching the people flood control techniques to tameChina's rivers and lakes) over 4,200 years ago, andthey were used more frequently in the Warring States Period.

 In the Han Dynasty, lacquerware was employed for daily use, and gained in popularity from then on. During the Tang Dynasty, the making of lacquerware developed significantly. After the Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties, there were more than 20 different styles of lacquerware.


In Da¡¯an Country, the farming of lacquer trees was once well-established. Considering the number of products harvested from such trees, they deserve the description ¡°fruitful¡±. When they are blown away, more lacquer trees grow up. The lacquer trees prefer to grow above the altitude of 800 meters. Da¡¯an Village is located at the altitude of 1,036 meters, near the highest mountain --- Daling Mountain (in the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture). There used to be a lot of lacquer trees growing there. The old industry of harvesting lacquer is said to have taken place there for about 600 years, or longer.

Nowadays in Da¡¯an, cured tobacco stretches across almost all the places where the lacquer trees used to grow.


The oldest lacquer farmer in Da¡¯an Country is 79 year-old Li Siyan, who lives in Dahong Village. He has contracted one or two hundred lacquer trees originally owned by Guo Youshu in Taoziping, 20 li (a Chinese unit of length, Chinese mile, = 10 kilometers) away from his home. When the lacquer-reaping season comes, the old man, a bit crippled, walks alone on this mountain road to his trees.

The procedure of lacquer-collecting is not that complicated, but it is demanding, for both hands and feet are needed. The collector is in the tree, a lacquer bobbin hanging in one hand, with the scraper in one hand and the clam shell in the other. Two hands cooperate to scrape the lacquer quickly into the bobbin.
The first step of lacquer-reaping is to ¡°cut an opening,¡± which is done by taking the bark off the lacquer tree. The first sap to seep through is not collected because of its low lacquer content. Seven days later, ¡°the first cut¡± can be initiated. The first cut is quite narrow, only about 2 centimeters wide and 6 centimeters long.


Then the farmer will set the tray (clam shell) by thrusting it into the tree 3 centimeters below the cut.


After that, another cut is made every 8 days, and after the completion of each year¡¯s sap-reaping, many wide ¡°thrush eyes¡± are left on the trees.


The sap running out of the lacquer trees is milk white. But when it flows to the clam shell, part of it changes color in less than 5 minutes, looking like silver grain, soft and clear.









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