Gaobeidian
Gaobeidian's Artists

The Women’s Handicraft Association

Formally founded in 2008, the Women’s Handicraft Association is comprised of approximately 30 women who come together to work on their handicraft work with funding support from the local government. Each of the women works an unrelated day job, but commits much time and energy to engaging with the Handicraft Association. Each woman specializes in her own professional medium, and typically the older women mentor and teach the younger women.

One of the women, a fabric artist, learned her skill from joining the Association. After one month she was able to work on her craft independently, using patterns as a reference. Most patterns reflect or relate to traditional Chinese culture, while others do not. The Association acts as a broker of sorts, connecting artists with potential buyers of their crafts, though none of the women at this time work on commissions. The income generated from their artistic efforts does not yield much, but the women say they continue to work hard for the enjoyment.

Another woman specializes in cross-stitch and beadwork. She has not been doing this work long, but has gotten very skilled. She makes fabric and beadwork art, including dresses for doll princesses. She once worked in a factory making paper boxes and is now retired working on handicrafts. She receives her materials in a kit or package that has numbers to indicate what colors go where to create patterns.

Another women, like the bead and flower artist the ChinaVine team met with, enjoys creating her own patterns. She saw someone vending silk flowers in the market place and got lessons on the basics and purchased the necessary materials to get started. She explained that one must make their own design and use their heart to guide them. This approach results in more elaborate, beautiful work to share.

Stilt-Walking

Established in 1886, Gaobedien’s stilt-walking performance troupe is one of the best and most well known in East Beijing. In its origins, the troupe performed at temple festivals and other village celebrations that worshipped gods and goddesses. However, with the Culture Revolution (1966-1976), most of the performing arts including stilt-walking were forbidden and nearly lost. In the 1980’s with economic and cultural reforms, the renowned stilt-walking troupe was rebuilt. The troupe experienced another decline due to economic strife in the 90’s and was rebuilt for a third time in 2003. The stilt-walking troupe of modern Gaobeidian is much changed from its hundred-year-old roots. For example, the skill and focus has grown to favor the stagecraft and spectacle, resembling something closer and more characteristic of Peking opera, incorporating female actresses, clowns and the omission of songs.