Tan Sujuan is a national representative inheritor of the weaving technique of Maonan flower bamboo hat, which has been ranked among China's national intangible cultural heritage.
Flower bamboo hats are prized for their exquisite craftsmanship and are often gifted to loved ones as a symbol of happiness by the Maonan people.
"In ancient times, Maonan boys were very skilled with their hands. When they met their beloved, they would knit a flower bamboo hat and give it to her as a token of their love. When Maonan girls wed, their families would also use these hats as a kind of dowry," Tan said. The hats are crafted from local varieties of golden and dark bamboo, with the shape a combination of bronze drums and cones.
Huanjiang Maonan autonomous county in Hechi city, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, serves as the birthplace of the Maonan ethnic group, one of 22 ethnic minorities in China with a population of less than 100,000.
Because of the complex knitting process involved and their role as a love keepsake, flower bamboo hats are considered to be very precious. However, there is no written or pictorial record of this weaving technique, with the tradition handed down from generation to generation by elderly craftsmen. This has put it close at times to the verge of extinction.
In order to save this prized piece of national cultural heritage, Tan began learning the weaving skill from veteran craftswoman Tan Shunmei in the 1990s.
Dozens of processes are required to make a flower bamboo hat, including selecting the bamboo strips, knot-shaping, hat-weaving, flower-weaving, making the inner lining, trimming the edges, and oil painting, which together takes several days.
"The flower bamboo hat is a cultural symbol of the Maonan people. I hope more people can learn about this craft, so that it can be inherited and carried forward," said Tan, who actively promotes the craft by conducting teaching activities at schools and on college campuses. She has also set up her own studio, which has trained many artists and other inheritors of Maonan flower bamboo hat-weaving skills.
In recent years, Huanjiang has established a Maonan culture and art education base, a Maonan flower bamboo hat learning hall, and a craft exhibition hall. These are part of its efforts to encourage the further inheritance and development of Maonan culture and art.
Meanwhile, the Huanjiang art troupe has performed in the United States, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam and numerous other countries, helping to make Maonan culture flourish on the world stage. Their flower bamboo hats have ventured abroad and drawn widespread attention in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere.