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Crafts and Figures
High and Mighty-Tainan’s Craft Art
Wang Bao-yuan
Wei Jun-bang

■Culture and History Researcher / Zheng Dao-cung

     Tainan city is the key place for Taiwan’s traditional culture, especially in the craft arts of which wood carving, embroidery, metalwork and color painting are the four most representative ones. The number of these traditional crafts artisans in Tainan is the highest in Taiwan and their skills are also the best. In addition, the market of wood carving and embroidery can be found throughout Taiwan. In the last 300 to 400 years, craft artisans continued to accumulate cultural experiences from living, and they developed craft arts works with pragmatic characteristics. The market demands useful works, thus customers and craft arts
artisans started to build tight relationships. There’s a Taiwanese saying “being able to please people means you have great skills” which indicates exactly the close relationship between artisans and consumers.

     The development of sculpture and wood carving in Taiwan depended on descendants or followers of masters from Fujian’s Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, and Fuzhou in China. Taking Tainan city as an example, Xifoguo is of Quanzhou school, Renlexuang is of Fuzhou schools and Tainan’s Offi cial God of War Temple built by Wei De-zhang was a follower of Zhangzhou school which now is run by Wei Jun-bang. Carving techniques include deep carving, relief carving, inlaid carving, engraving and hollow carving. Sculptures come into works of big size as architecture, furniture, shrine, religious tools, fi ne wood window frames or
Buddha statues, among which Buddha statues are the most representative.

     Buddha statues are also known as "powdering Buddha" and this business is fl ourishing in Tainan City today. The stores are mostly located in the area of Minquan Road. Today, the Minquan Road area includes the end of Fang Bridge, Lingho Street, Maizai Street and Caohua Street these cross streets in the Qing governance era. We can see the dynamics of the market from two different periods. At the beginning, under the Japanese ruling, those “powdering Buddha” stores appeared around the Fang Bridge. There were: Laifoguo, Foxiguo, Chengxiguo, Xiaolingshang, Xifangfuo and Renlexuang, among which only the
Renlexuang is of Fuzhou school. The others followed the Quangzhou school. On one hand, the earliest settlers of Tainan came from Quangzhou; and on the other hand, after the Second World War, Japanese promoted policies to urge people to change their family shrine positions and remodel temples, so that the “powdering Buddha” industry was suppressed. Therefore, many masters closed their stores, changed careers or even returned to China. Until after the war, many Buddha statues were in very bad condition and artisans for “powdering Buddha” were required, so that sculpture craft art recovered.
Due to great market demand, the market is no longer exclusively Quanzhou school style. Another group of Fuwhou masters emmerged during this period of time. Wei De-zhang from the Offi cial God of War Temple also invited masters from Zhangzhou to open business in Taiwan. All these variations reveal a new feature of the sculpture fi eld in Tainan. The rise of the Fuzhou school is due to their broader techniques and their strong exchanges of techniques. On the contrary, the Quanzhou school counts on the atelier system or family tradition. Generally, apprentices need only three years and four months to learn separated parts of the job and to be able to work independently. Then they can take orders or live on their own shop. For example, the 2010 Chinese Culture Arts Division Prize winner Chen Qi village(陳啟村) is the best example.

     Later in the 70’s, Chen Jin-yong (陳金泳)(1934-1997, also known as Kim Young(又名金泳), from Zhangzhou) was originally a paper gluing craftsman in Tainan City. He switched to the “powdering Buddha” industry in 1969. As he was not familiar with the working process, he often sent his chief disciple Huang De-sheng(黃德勝) to the Shennong Street, to the Xifoguo, Caixin’s (known as “Fozai Heart”) store to learn the necessary techniques. Chen Jin-yong had solid aesthetic foundation, thus he built up his own methods rapidly. He then became quite famous after a few years and started to take apprentices for wood carving. In order to distinguish this style from the Quanzhou and Fuzhou schools, peopl   called them “Ge school”.

     From the thousands of Buddha statues in Tainan temples, we can see the artistic style during the post-war democracy era. For example, Chen Zheng-xung(陳正雄), the famous wood-sculptor from Tainan, was fi rstly the traditional sculptor in “powdering Buddha” industry. He then realized that traditional sculpture would be affected by modern materials and tools. He thus entered into the creative wood sculpture fi eld and his “plain color Buddha statues” were praised by the religious fi eld and private collectors. Therefore, a group of middle and young generation masters in the “powdering Buddha” industry, such as Chen Qi-cun(陳啟村), Huang De-sheng(黃德勝), Wang Shi-ji(王仕吉), Wu Qi-sheng(吳麒陞), Lin Yu-hai(林玉海), Yao De-ming(姚德明), Ke Quang-ding(柯全丁), Hong Jun-zhi(洪俊智), Xu Yu-ren(許育仁), Chen Kui-guang(陳奎光), Huang Rei-xiang(黃瑞祥), Yang Sun-yi(楊森益), Yang Cheng-quan(楊誠全), Zhan Zhi-ping(詹志評), Liu Jin-wen(劉進文), and Cai De-tai(蔡德太) started to attempt creative works. This trend brought a new air into the traditional sculpture market and artistic creation in Tainan. These artists gradually created their new urban artistic style and their status in the craft arts development history of Taiwan.