* Over recent years, China has been seeking to empower rural revitalization with the development of specialized cultural industries, with handicrafts being a part of the strategy.
* In the process of rural revitalization, traditional Chinese culture plays a special role in supporting elderly care.
* With living conditions having improved significantly, there is a growing demand for cultural life among rural residents. From rural libraries to performances, public cultural services have improved vastly in rural areas nationwide.
JINAN, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- East China's Shandong Province has been actively exploring the integration of traditional Chinese culture into rural revitalization over the past decade. These efforts help improve the wealth of rural residents through distinctive cultural industries.
As the hometown of the ancient Chinese philosophers Confucius and Mencius, Shandong has extensive and profound traditional cultural resources from which to draw wisdom.
Over recent years, China has been seeking to empower rural revitalization with the development of specialized cultural industries, with handicrafts being a part of the strategy.
A villager shows her straw weaving handicraft in Damatou Township of Dongying City, east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 2, 2022. (Xinhua/Xu Suhui)
Today, traditional handicraft industries such as embroidery, straw weaving and clay sculpture embody elements of both traditional Chinese culture and modern daily life. With proper support and innovation, handicraft skills can bring great economic returns.
Niejiazhuang, a village in Jiangzhuang Township of Gaomi City, is a cradle of clay sculpture, a form of national intangible cultural heritage.
Nie Laichen is a 23rd-generation practitioner of Niejiazhuang clay sculpture, and his clay tigers, also known as mud tigers, sell well on the market. With the help of his father, he sold over 50,000 clay sculptures in the first half of 2022.
However, things were different just a few years ago when they would sell only one or two thousand a year. At the time, clay sculptures required hard work but brought low profits, and many people in the industry chose to quit.
To revive the industry and help locals cash in on their handicrafts, local authorities worked together to improve logistics, technology, management, promotion and sales.
Today, over 5,000 people in Jiangzhuang Township are engaged in the research, design and production of intangible cultural heritage-related products, making over 400,000 mud tigers per year, and the total annual sales revenue exceeds 10 million yuan (1.48 million U.S. dollars).
Tiger-shaped clay sculptures from Gaomi City are on display during a fair for creative cultural tourism products in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, June 27, 2022. (Xinhua/Xu Suhui)
"The spring of mud tigers has come," Nie said.
A large part of China's elderly population lives in the vast countryside, and taking good care of the group has become a major social concern. In the process of rural revitalization, traditional Chinese culture plays a special role in supporting elderly care.
In Xiaochengzi, a mountainous village with a population of 1,328 in the city of Jining, elderly locals look forward to Saturdays when Confucianism classes are held.
As many young and middle-aged locals work in cities far away from home for most of the year, a big proportion of those living in Xiaochengzi are the elderly.
Wang Chun, a retired official who volunteers to give the Confucianism classes, drives from the county seat to the small village every Saturday. Wang has been teaching the class there for nine years.
But there is more to these Saturdays than simple lectures. Wang adapts his classes to his students. He usually tells stories, most of which are from the Analects of Confucius, and he also organizes parties for the elderly, where people sing songs and have fun.
The class is now practicing the virtue of filial piety and trying to figure out new ways to care for the elderly in the countryside. A canteen has been set up next to the Confucianism lecture hall in the village and, every Saturday, villagers can enjoy the class and have lunch together for free.
Since the rural Confucianism class program was launched in 2013, more than 3,700 rural Confucianism lecture halls have been built in the city of Jining. Volunteers from all walks of life have been selected as teaching staff.
"Promoting aspects of traditional Chinese culture such as harmony and filial piety can help cultivate social civility in rural areas and make rural revitalization more vigorous," said Wang Zhongwu, a professor of sociology at Shandong University.
With living conditions having improved significantly, there is a growing demand for cultural life among rural residents.
Photo taken on July 28, 2022 shows tourists visiting a traditional village in Zhangqiu District of Jinan, east China's Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Xu Suhui)
From rural libraries to performances, public cultural services have improved vastly in rural areas nationwide.
In recent years, the country has beefed up its building of cultural infrastructure in the countryside. It also values the important roles of folk culture and art in promoting rural revitalization, and has therefore organized more public-interest cultural programs.
To help rural residents experience excellent cultural works, local authorities in Shandong have been showing dramas and plays in the countryside as a part of various pilot programs.
"It's amazing that we can enjoy such brilliant plays," said Zhang Ming, a local in Jinxiang County, a major garlic-producing area in Shandong, while watching a live show on his phone after working on his farm.
The two-and-a-half-hour performance was broadcast live via Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and attracted a large number of viewers, with many sending comments and interacting with each other online.
For those who are unable to watch live shows, especially the elderly, local authorities record the performances and people can watch them on the local cable TV channel whenever possible.
"A new policy in the county helps locals aged 65 and above install cable TV for free," said an elderly resident surnamed Sun. "I can now watch operas on TV anytime."
(Reporting by Zhang Xinyi, Wu Shuguang, Sun Xiaohui, Yuan Min, Li Baojie; Video reporters: Feng Yuanyuan, Zhu Xiaoguang, Zhang Xinyi; Video editors: Yang Zhixiang, Cao Ying)■