As an old saying goes, you cannot fetch water with a bamboo basket. However, in Huixiang Village, Yiliang, Yunnan, a bamboo weaver can make bamboo fish tanks that do not leak at all. They are not just beautiful, but also are practical and bring with them great economic benefits.
Li Jiayun, the maker of bamboo fish tanks, was born in a family of bamboo weavers. Upon graduation from junior high school, he began to engage in the production of bamboo products. He even uses a bamboo to make teacups. Beginning in 2006, Li Jiayun studied bamboo weaving under the tutelage of a Japanese master for four years. “My family has been making bamboo articles for generations. We used to make bamboo articles for practical purposes. Now, I make bamboo articles with an aesthetic purpose,” said Li Jiayuan.
Having engaged in bamboo weaving for 40 years, Li Jiayun can make almost anything out of bamboo. In his courtyard, you can see all sorts of exquisite bamboo articles, including fruit plates, flower baskets, sewing boxes and even bamboo cups.
There are more than 80 families in Huixiang Village, and most of them make bamboo articles. Li’s family is the most famous and he is the sixth generation inheritor of the family business. Brought up in a bamboo-weaving family, Li Jiayun began to show a keen interest in the family craft when he was a little boy. Later, he devoted himself to making bamboo products, and has now become an inheritor of this intangible cultural heritage.
Li Jiayun is especially good at making bamboo fish tanks. Unlike his usual bamboo goods, the fish tanks hold water and are perfectly watertight. During the Yunnan Cultural Industry Expo in August 2013, a businessman offered to trade his BMW for one of Li Jiayun’s bamboo fish tanks, but the artist refused. “I won’t sell it for millions. It takes more than 100 different steps to make, and is the result of decades of effort, but that cannot be measured by money.” He has made only few bamboo fish tanks, which he carefully keeps and exhibits only on major occasions.
Li Jiayun does not sell the bamboo fish tanks for any amount because the raw materials are hard to secure. A bamboo fish tank consists of eight layers, and the outermost layer must be watertight. “The master cuts bamboo strips and the apprentice weaves them into objects.”To make a bamboo fish tank, it takes more than ten procedures just to process the bamboo strips, after which they become smooth and transparent. If you cover a page of newspaper with these strips, you can still read the words underneath.
“It is a test of mind power. You can’t be careless at any point in the process,” said Li Jiayuan. Only one out of a dozen bamboo fish tanks are successful, and Li Jiayuan burns the defective ones. Some people think the defective bamboo fish tanks are already good enough, and offer to buy them, but Li always refuses. “It is meaningless to keep a flawed work,” Li Jiayun said. He gets the most satisfaction when he completes a watertight bamboo fish tank.
In 2006, the famous Japanese bamboo weaving master, Yagi, came to China to teach bamboo weaving skills. When he came to Yunnan, Yagis elected 25 bamboo weavers who had at least ten years of experience. Li Jiayun stood out and became Yagi’s only Chinese disciple by “obtaining the true spirit”.