April 19, 2018 | Teacher & Student Spotlight

Guiyang Students Document the Lost Art of Wax Printing

Guiyang Students Document the Lost Art of Wax Printing

A myriad of intricate designs and colors, wax printing represents a long-forgotten artistry. Representative of Guizhou’s folk craft culture, the art of wax printing was headed for extinction in the wake of mass factory production. Enter Ya Gao and Yanni Li, classmates on our Guiyang campus, whose love of this artistic culture ignited their protective instincts and prompted them to think, “What can we do to raise more attention to the importance of this traditional culture?”

Yanni Li grew up in a family full of tradition. Deeply influenced by family members who regularly researched the folk culture of Guizhou, she eagerly agreed to team up with classmate Ya to film a compelling documentary on this lost art (view at bottom of article). But before shooting could begin, both women knew they needed to dive into the history of wax printing to better understand its’ origins. They headed to colorful Guizhou Cultural & Creative Industrial Park to seek out the only wax printing artist in the entire park.

Guiyang student learns from artist Qun Li

Guiyang student Ya Gao learns from artist Qun Li

Qun Li began learning this ancient art form when she was 8 years old, and she has engaged in this complex and time consuming process every day for nearly 50 years. She has easily produced thousands of these beautiful patterned fabrics. “As a cultural craftsman, her personal experiences and views of this traditional culture are priceless,” says Ya. “You can’t get primary source information like this from a book.”

Wax printing linens drying in the sun

Qun Li’s wax printing linens drying in the sun

Ya and Yanni decided to tell the story of this traditional craft-work and its inheritor, to bring the lost art of wax printing into public view. Over a period of several months, they visited the park often to learn from Qun Li. They not only gained a better understanding of the art technique but a deeper relationship with Qun as well. It laid the groundwork well for their documentary to begin filming. With a knowledge of wax printing and a strong desire to tell a story, the two women hired a photography team and readied themselves to begin. The photographer’s first question, however, stopped them in their tracks. “What is the tone of your documentary?” he asked. Ya and Yanni realized that they had no idea about the process of crafting a film. They knew nothing of storyboarding, developing a reasonable division of labor, designing a script, and considering angles and lenses. Back to square one, they taught themselves everything they needed to know, working well into the night, week after week, as time allowed. It would be almost one year before they would finish their film.

Guizhou wax printing display

Qun Li’s artistry “before” and “after”

Their year of dedication and hard work paid off. Their documentary was published on China’s online video platform iQiyi, immersing viewers in the world of wax printing. It received more than 20,000 hits in its first month online! In fact, many of their Guiyang classmates are now interested in the protection of traditional cultures thanks to the film, and have joined Ya’s club, the colorful Guizhou cultural research club, rapidly increasing membership from 5 to 30!

But for Ya and Yanni, it is about much more than popularity.

Ya: “There is no doubt that I have gained new skills. But my biggest reward is my change in attitude towards difficulty. If I can make a documentary from just an idea, what else can I do? Before the documentary came out, it seemed impossible to me because it was such a huge project and required such a large amount of time and close cooperation between team members. Throughout the process, we needed to learn everything from the very beginning. I cannot believe that I did it, but now I do. I believe that I can overcome any difficulty because I have courage and confidence of myself.”

Guiyang students film documentary

Yanni Li (L) and Ya Gao (R)

Yanni: “I am a person who has a lot of ideas, but I don’t put many of them into action. I never seem to have enough courage to take that first step. After Ya convinced me to join this project, her strong leadership skills changed my negative attitude towards teamwork. I used to think that there were only bad emotions between team members, the kind that slow a project down. Now I can feel the power teamwork, I can appreciate team operation and communication, and I understand the importance of cooperation. Our whole team has a belief that “if you really want to do something, the universe will find a way to give it to you.” We adhered to this whenever we had difficulties, and we tried our best to overcome them. It reminded me of all those ideas I’ve had, such as running an animation club and publishing a book. I think now I can begin moving them into reality.”

You might think that students studying in an international high school only care about western culture – that traditional Chinese culture is no longer important to them. But these two prove that theory wrong. Students on KL school campuses have more freedom to develop their interests, follow their passions, and discover who they are and what they want to become. “I transferred to Guiyang from my traditional Chinese high school when I was a sophomore,” says Ya. “It has offered me so much in the way of academics and resources while also giving me the time and energy to do more meaningful things.”

Don’t miss their impressive film below:

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