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Fuzhou Bodiless lacquerware in World Expo
Updated: 2010-03-22

At the Shanghai World Expo, a couple of bodiless plum vases made by Shen Zhenghao more than one hundred years ago will be exhibited in Fujian Hall from May 1st to October 31st. 
In February 2010, Fuzhou’s bodiless lacquerware Industry Association recommended these two vases to the Fujian Province Preparatory Committee of the Shanghai World Expo.
These two vases were made using a technique unique to Fuzhou. Before coloring, the artisan crushes the foil and then mixes it with paint. After that, girls younger than 18 years old will tap the color onto the surface of the vase. This technique is rare in making lacquerware.
Due to its light, delicate and fading-resistant qualities, Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware, jewelry enamel and Jingdezhen porcelain are listed as one of the “Three Treasures” of China’s traditional handicrafts(the other two being Beijing cloisonné and Jingdezhen porcelain). Fujian lacquer has been exhibited in eight World Expos and won awards.

The bodiless lacquerware starts with a body of clay, plaster or wood. Grass linen or silk is pasted onto it, layer after layer, with lacquer as the binder. The original body is removed after the outer cloth shell has dried in the shade. It is then smoothed with putty, polished, and coated with layers of lacquer. After being carved with colorful patterns, it becomes extremely light. Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware is moisture-proof, resistant to heat, acid and alkali, and its colour and luster are highly durable, adding beauty to its practical use.

Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware was created by Shen Shao'an during the Qing Dynasty. He was inspired in restoring the inscribed boards at temples and invented the technique. The bodiless red lacquered bowl Shen presented to the Qing measured 10cm in height, 10.8cm in diameter, with a thickness of less than 1mm. Emperor Qianlong was so delighted that he wrote a poem inside the bowl.

The technique of manufacturing bodiless lacquerware was passed down from generation to generation in the Shen family. After Shen Shao'an, the most successful lacquerware craftsmen were were Shen Zhenggao (1866 ~1928) and Shen Zhengxun, the fifth generation after Shen Shao'an. The bodiless lacqueware they made was sent to an international commodity exhibition in Paris in 1898, and won a golden medal.

In the following years, their work won many awards from international exhibitions, as well as the approval of Empress Dowager Cixi. Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware thus became a favorite gift among royalty, government officials and foreign guests. Nowadays, bodiless lacquerware can be found in many famous museums around the world.

By Yan Fei

Editor: Xie Fang