Phase 3: Interpreting Information
Information From Local Contacts:
Date: April 24, 2013
Source: Person who lives at mosque
Information: The best quality wooden carved doors take about half an year to finish. Usually, they use redwood, in which they think is the best, when carving the doors.
Interpretation: This answer is relevant to question #9. Now I know about how long a whole set of doors, with color, the best quality, take to be completed. This makes sense, since the carvings are so complicated and beautiful, it would take both skill and time to have finish this master piece. However, a new question has raised from this newly received information. Why is redwood the best when carving doors?
Date: April 30, 2013
Source: Master Carver from Jian Chuan
Information: There was a picture that symbolizes "Hua Kai Fu Gui:, meaning wealth. There was another carving that represented long live, since on the picture, there was "Song Shu", a type of tree that lives throughout all four seasons without shedding leaves. He said that there were over 30 or so different tools used when carving on wood.
Interpretation: This answers some of my wonderments about the different pictures and the symbolism behind them. This information shows the meaning of some of the pictures, and gives me the idea that chinese traditional designs usually serves as good luck charms or related to that. I knew that there were a lot of tools used when carving, but I did not know there were so many. A new question that this information raises is which tools are used the most often?
Source: Wood carving shop owner, husband carves the wood she sells
Information: Usually the people who are good at carving are good at drawing in general. This is because before you carve, you need to first draw out the design, and then paste the paper on the wood. Then you carve based upon your drawing. If you can not draw, then the carving would turn out a bit weird. She also mentioned that in chinese culture, every picture has a meaning. For example, the carving with the four types of plants, "Mei Lan Zhu Ju", is representing a person's four positive characteristics. "Mei", "Lan", "Zhu", and "Ju", each represent a characteristic. Another carving was of "Tai Shi Shao Shi", meaning "Bei Bei Chu Gao Guan", which means . There is a place called "Tu Shu Cheng" near Xia Guan, where I can find many books that explain the many meaning of some carvings. Before I go on to carving myself, she advised me to first get one of these books and read it. Another thing she told me was that depending on the talent or determination of the carver, it would depend on whether I would be able to learn the basics of wood carving in one month. She said there is a chance.
Interpretation: This information answers some of my questions on the designs of wood carvings. It also shows that wood carvers also need to be good at drawing. It makes sense, since you first have to draw out what you want to carve. Unless, you just copy from a book of some sort, but that would be boring. I did not know that every traditional chinese picture has a meaning behind when carving. I thought some of them were just pretty or random. A question that this information raises is are there any expert wood carvers who can not draw?
Date: May 6th, 2013
Source: Mr.Zhao, Ms.Li- my wood carving teachers
Information: Mr.Zhao started wood carving since he was 15 years old, and has done so to this very day, he is 25 years old right now. The amount of wood carving sculpture and work pieces made each day differ on how big or complicated the pieces are. In average, these wood carvers get about 200 RMB each day, which is not a lot.
The softest wood used to carve is "Qing Pi Mu", as well as "Song Mu". One of the hardest type of wood is "Yong Mu". Another hard wood is "Hong Chuan Mu".
The designs and pictures on the wood carving all each have their own meaning. The carvers say there is not really any "trick" to knowing all the meanings. You can also create your own picture and symbolism behind the picture, though that is very challenging. Some of the pictures they explained about were:
- "Jiu Long", nine dragons, only the emperor may own any of this sort of carving.
-"Fu Gui Hua", a type of flower that symbolizes wealth.
-"Nian Hua", meaning "nian nian you yu", which means
Wood carving had started almost 7000 years ago. Back then, people would just use stones and carve on tree bark.
According to Mr.Zhao, wood carving first started around Fu Jian.
There are some good books in Jian Chuan where they have the designs and the meanings of those designs. Mr.Zhao recommended me a book with many wood carving designs in them, along with the meaning on the bottom.
Interpretation: These information answers many of my questions. For example, the symbolism behind the carvings, the types of wood used, and how much money carvers get in average. I not only got information from asking him questions, but also from observing him when he was working. Some parts of this information agree with my knowledge that it takes a long time to master this technique. It also confirms that wood carving has started a long time ago, in China. A new question that this information arises is why did Mr.Zhao want to become a wood carver? What did people carve 7000 years ago?
Information From 3-to-5's:
Date: April 24, 2013
Source: Antique shop owners
Information: Some of the wooden doors they bought range from 8,000 to 700 rmb. They own doors from the 60-70's. They think the best places where the wood is carved are at Jie Chuan, around 150 kilometers. There are also good wood carvers at Dali Old Town, at the south gate. Some of the doors survived the cultural revolution when Mao Ze Dong was alive. The way the managed to keep the doors from being destroyed is that they wrote good things about Mao on the doors, so the doors would not be taken away and harmed. The doors had some interesting designs and pictures on them. There was a big flower, the Ju flower (菊花), on one of the doors. Around the flower is a pattern, and the overall picture is circular. The circular part of this picture symbolizes "Yuan Yuan Man Man", meaning everything was perfect, everything went as desired. The Ju flower symbolizes long life, or for good things to last a very long time. Another design is of the "Fu Gui" Flower (富贵花). This flower symbolizes wealth. Yet another flower is shown on the doors. This flower is called the "Xiu Qiu" flower (绣球花). This flower represents hope and true love. Other than flowers, there are also pictures of animals as well. One picture is of a "Ma lu" (马鹿), red deer, picking "Ling Zhi" (灵芝), a type of chinese plant used for medicine.
Interpretation: It is quite cool how people prevented carved doors from being destroyed during the cultural revolution. Some of this information answers my questions on the designs of the carvings. It also tells me some more places I can visit to find more information. It is amazing how so many wooden doors have survived from the cultural revolution, in which I am glad they did. A new question I have now is during the cultural revolution, were there still people carving doors, and did not get caught? How did they stay hidden?
Date: April 30, 2013
Source: Jian Chuan Wood Carving Master
Information: Some of the wood they prefer to use is Chui Wood, and red wood. One tea table takes about 4-5 days to finish. They can make their own pattern and pictures, including the meaning behind them. One of them was "Ren Shen Ru Yi", meaning live a long and wealthy life. Part of their work is hand made, and some parts are made using machines. They use the machines to make the wood smooth, then the rest they carve with their hands and tools. They started learning to carve since they were 10 or so.
Interpretation: This information confirms my understanding that wood carvers start really early when practicing this art. It seems to me that 4-5 days is such a short time, but once I watch the people carve with such expertise, it seems reasonable for them to finish so fast. This slightly answers question #9, giving me an idea how long a piece of carving takes to complete. However, I still have wonderments about this information. Why did they start carving so early, when they were only 10 years old? Are the machines useful? What do they do? How do you use them?
Date: April 24, 2013
Source: Guard who works at Linden Centre
Information: Some of the wood carvings at the Linden Centre are still there from when the building was first built. At Jian Chuan, there are very skillful and good wood carvers there. There skills are quite high, and it is a good place to go visit. Some of the wood carvings Linden Centre got was from Jian Chuan. These master wood carvers are usually the older generation, they have the skills left behind from the past, and have been practicing for a very long time. Usually, the wood that is hand carved looks a bit more natural. Those carved from machines look too fake and artificial. " Chui Mu" is one of the best kind of wood used when carving, people say it is the "king wood".
Interpretation: This information showed me another place to go investigate more about wood carving. I thought that hand wood carvings look better than machine wood carvings, and it was confirmed with this information. A question I have is when was the Linden Centre building built, and when were the old wood carvings carved?
Background Information (from Phase 1, Step 4):
Information: At Hui Zhou, they use elm wood, pine material, beech, fir, Nan Zi, both hard and soft wood. In 2000 of November, Xi Di and Hong Cun was included in the World Heritage List because of their magnificent and fascinating woodcarvings.
Interpretation: This provided a place, in china, that was a great wood carving area. A question that this information triggers is what carvings is Hui Zhou most famous for?
Information: The archaeological excavations show that the essential techniques of woodcarving have been pretty much complete at the time prior to the Qin Dynasty ( 221-207 B.C.E). Aside from furniture and buildings, carving skills are also showcased in wood sculptures of religious figures. Buddhism thrived during the Six Dynasties (220-589) and subsequent Sui (581-618) and Tang periods (618-907). The new institution of jianghu (匠戶, Artisan Household) registry allowed the carving skills passing from the father to the son for generations, until well into Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). After mid-Ming, the carving arts became an independent craft category in its own right.
Many carving artists though famous for one single craft never confined themselves to that one single medium during their lifetime. For example, renowned bamboo carvers Zhu Ying (朱纓) and Pu Cheng (濮澄) both carved on wood as well. Rhinoceros horn expert Bao Tiancheng (鮑天成) also did his art on ivory and red sandalwood.
The most ideal material is boxwood (黃楊木). In addition, Qienan (伽楠) incense wood (aloeswood, 沉香木) and sandalwood (檀香木) are known for their nice aroma, whereas ebony's (烏木) appeal is in its hues and sheen. Gnarled wood (癭木) gets its name from its many knots, lumps, and snarls. Woodcarving artisans took advantage of this interesting natural form and subtly fashioned it into original artwork, with minimum and "invisible" knife work.
Interpretation: This confirms my understanding that wood carving had started a long time ago. it also answers my question on what woods are used. It seems that during the Qin Dynasty, wood carving was already a very active skill going around in China. I thought that people only carve on wood that cooperates. Apparently not, it is really interesting how they use gnarled wood. I have a question based off this new information. What is the difference between carving on wood than carving on rhino horns, bamboo, and stone? Is it hard to change from one media to the other as a adapted master?
Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1, Step 5):
#1. How long has this skill been going on for?
Around 700 years ago, wood carving has already been born. 
#2. Do people who carve on wood doors also know how to carve on other places like chairs or tables?
Yes. It is practically the same. 
#3. Who, in the town of XI Zhou, is a master in the art of wood carving?
Mr.Zhao, as well as many experts in Jian Chuan.  [observation]
#4. What type of wood is used, or what is the best choice?
The softest wood used to carve is "Qing Pi Mu", as well as "Song Mu". One of the hardest type of wood is "Yong Mu". Another hard wood is "Hong Chuan Mu". There are hard types of wood that skilled carvers like to use, even though it is hard, because the wood gives off a shiny texture, and makes the carving look both three dimensional and smoother. 
The most ideal material is boxwood (黃楊木). In addition, Qienan (伽楠) incense wood (aloeswood, 沉香木) and sandalwood (檀香木) are known for their nice aroma, whereas ebony's (烏木) appeal is in its hues and sheen. Gnarled wood (癭木) gets its name from its many knots, lumps, and snarls. Woodcarving artisans took advantage of this interesting natural form and subtly fashioned it into original artwork, with minimum and "invisible" knife work. 
#5. Are there any legends/stories related to wood carving?
#6. What tools are required?
There are over 30 or so tools used when carving.  They each have a different type of blade [observation]. There is also a hammer/axe, in which you use either when the wood is very hard, or when making the outlines of the picture. [observation]
#7. Who was the one who invented this technique?
It is not clear how this technique has come to have been invented. [all]
#8. What is the difference of carvings on doors to those on chairs, tables, and others?
There is not much different. Only that on big piece of carvings, including furniture, you often piece together smaller pieces of wood to make the final piece. There is no big huge single piece of wood used when carving a big piece of artwork. [observation] Doors also have a flat surface, so that would be different when carving a chair leg. A chair leg is more like a sculpture [observation]
#9. How long does it take, in average, to finish a piece of one door?
In the mosque, a whole set of doors, including color, took about half an year to finish, if they were to be the best quality.  At Dali Old Town, the masters there could finish some wood carvings in less than 5 days. A single carved door would probably only take about 4-5 days as well.  
#10. Did this skill originate from China? If so, where in China? If not, then where did it come from, and how did it come to China?
I know I will be ready to move on to phase 4 when I am confident I have gathered enough and plenty amount of information to write a well-rounded report. I also need to know what my Hanger is going to be before I start phase 4.