Chinese youth’s innovative carpentry draws millions online

Different from traditional carpenters, An Xu innovated exquisite wooden crafts like high-heels and bracelets, which have brought him nearly 9 million followers online in just two years.

With a white linen shirt and black jogger pants, An, 26, constructed a wooden tower in front of his camera in a wooden house located in Longshan Village, Fenggang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province.

Since childhood, An has had a passion for painting, which he believes laid the foundation for his career. “In primary school, my male classmates often asked me to paint dragons on them, and would even give me some money for each painting,” he recalled.

An’s parents, however, did not share the same enthusiasm for his passion for painting. “The walls of our house and blank spaces in textbooks were covered with his paintings,” said Yang Zhengju, An’s mother.

Dropping out of high school in 2011, An left for coastal Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces and tried several jobs in garages, car washes and milk tea shops, but he felt none of them suited him.

His parents hoped that An would find a stable job. In 2019, Yang advised An to learn furniture manufacturing with a skillful carpenter in their hometown.

To his parent’s surprise, An dove right into the new craft. It only took him about three months to master the techniques. Today, An and carpentry are inseparable.

An said his first memory of carpentry came from his late grandfather who built the wooden house where their family lives now.

“When I was a child, my father made his living as a carpenter and was always invited by local villagers to design furniture,” recalled An Jiaxiao, An’s 51-year-old father.

In the past, carpenters were busy. Local villagers got used to living in wooden houses. Before every wedding ceremony, they would invite carpenters to prepare new cupboards and chairs to welcome new family members.

However, since the beginning of the 21st century, more people prefer brick-and-mortar houses and ready-made furniture over contracting carpenters. The changes have slashed the need for skilled carpenters, and fewer young people are willing to learn the ancient craft.

Over the past two years, An Xu continues to learn new skills by utilizing books and websites. When faced with difficult joint structures, he searches for teaching videos on popular video-sharing platforms and practices the technique over and over again.

An is now obsessed with the world of carpentry. He spends hours at home making furniture and gadgets, recording the process and posting the videos online.

“At the very beginning, I just uploaded videos on the social media platforms to see whether I could make some money if they went viral,” An said. “But now, I care more about the inheritance of the traditional craft.”

Last year, An made an ink marker, but few knew what it was. An explained that Lu Ban, a legendary Chinese woodworker who lived around 2,500 years ago, invented the item.

He then began to design more works related to Chinese traditional culture. At present, he is making an eight-layer model of Wenfeng Tower, a landmark with hundreds of years of history in the county.

Influenced by An’s enthusiasm, more people have started to take interest in the ancient craft and culture of the past. This May, a local secondary vocational school invited the young carpenter to give lectures once a week.

An has designed more than 100 works in the past two years. To support his work, An’s parents, who once worked in the county, resigned and became frequent guests in An’s videos.

“My video that has the most views online introduced the bracelet I made for my mother. My mom seldom bought herself any ornaments, and thus I wanted to make one for her myself,” said An, adding that he hopes the viewers will better cherish their family after watching the video.

Now the young man has made a profit of more than 400,000 yuan (about 61,920 U.S. dollars) through his videos, covering advertising revenues and sales of the wooden handicrafts.

“While doing my favorite woodwork, I bring money and company to my family, which in my eyes is the best way of life,” said An.

by Xinhua writers Wu Si, Liu Zhiqiang

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