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Chinese Wax Printing

Chinese wax printing is a special Chinese handicraft typical of ethnic characteristics and local styles. As one of the most antique handworks, it is perceived as an important part of China's ancient civilization.

Artists of wax printing make great efforts to weed through the old traditional techniques to bring forth the new and raise the wax printing art to a higher level. Therefore, it stands in the forest of art with an entirely new look.

Wax printing, which is known as the first printing in the East, is the most ancient handicraft in China. More than two thousand years ago, in Qin and Han Dynasties, China began to print pictures on the cloth and dye it later. When the wax was removed, the pictures could be seen. In the Tang Dynasty, products of wax printing were exported to Europe and Asia. Later, with the further development of the economy in the Central China, new industry gradually took the place of hand-made operation. The wax printing technique was lost in one place after another. But in some remote areas, such as Guizhou, this precious craft passed down generation after generation by oral instruction for two reasons. One is that the place is hard to get to so there are not much cultural exchanges. The other is that the natural resources that could be used in wax printing are quite rich. For years, the product of wax printing which is simple and unrestrained, has been the ornament and decoration of clothes and rooms for the minor nationalities in Guizhou.

Today, wax printing is mainly distributed among the ethnic minority areas of Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi provinces. In the course of its development, the art acquired its unique folk artistic features and is one of the most characteristic national arts in China.

The wax printing in Guizhou is featured as being lucid, lively, and uninhibited.

The kinds of wax printing products are various. There are wall hangings, letter bags, bags, aprons, cushions, table-clothes, door curtains, cloth-made dolls and so on. The style is from abstract to realistic. The content varies from figures, flowers and birds, landscapes to calligraphy.

There is no ending for the pursuit of art. The folk artists keep on searching and studying and ingeniously combine the art of painting, the art of calligraphy and the ancient folk art into a whole. The artists try to change the traditional view that wax printing is just a few pieces of cloth. They want wax printing to pass through the hall into the inner chamber as Hangzhou Silk and Suzhou Embroidery.

Called "laran" in Chinese, wax printing is a way of decorating fabric by covering parts of it with a coat of wax and then dyeing it. Beeswax is the main ingredient but other resins can also be used. To make a wax printing, certain areas of the fabric are selected and blocked out by brushing or drawing wax that has been heated in a little pot over the cloth; the cloth is then dyed different colors. The parts covered by wax resist the dye and retain their original hues. This process of waxing and dyeing can be repeated to create more elaborate and colorful designs. After the final dyeing the wax is removed and the fabric is prepared for usage or display. The wax printings can be framed and, if used properly, can make any house or office more unique and inviting.

The raw materials used in wax dyeing are pure cotton fabrics; the usual tools used for applying wax include a piece of copper and brass with bamboo handles. They are made from two small triangular pieces of metal, with their apexes bound to a bamboo holder by a copper wire. It is held like a pen either upright or on a slant in relation to the cloth, which is laid flat on a board. This tool is convenient for drawing straight or slightly curved lines.

Miao and Bouyei minority girls in China are highly skilled at wax printing. The realistic designs are usually plain, simple or rough in style. The shapes, not confined to the exact detail of nature, are boldly diverse and often exaggerated. This diversity and exaggeration come purely from the imagination, and are breathtakingly charming. The varied designs presented in either geometric shapes or as natural images, which generally stem from human life or legend, and are characterized with a rich folk hue.

The patterns of most wax printings are rooted in social history, totem worship, mythical legends or religious ethnic cultures. For example, Miao wax printings convey the independent idea for beauty and the way of thinking of Miao women, expressing their yearning for happiness, respect and admiration for life, a d worship of ancestors. Such patterns can feature geometric images, animals or plants. 

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