At the foot of the mountain, Anle Village, Shigu Town, Xiangtan County, Xiangtan City, Hunan Province, has been making oil-paper umbrellas since his ancestors, and to Zhou Hanyu's generation, the craft has been passed down for five generations. The stone drum oil paper umbrella based on Changshan Nanbamboo was once fought in the north and south with the Xiang army that rose up in the neighboring county Xiangxiang, and was also popular in the provincial city of Changsha in the 20s of the 30th century, and was sought after by many famous ladies.
As the fifth generation of the intangible cultural heritage drum oil paper umbrella technique, Zhou Hanyu has been studying this craft for 40 years. His son Zhou Le has tried to open an online store to help his father sell oil-paper umbrellas since college. Today, on the e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, Zhou Le's store can sell more than 1,<> stone drum oil paper umbrellas every month.
▲The two generations of inheritors of Zhou Hanyu and Zhou Le have made Shigu oil-paper umbrellas enter the lives of more consumers through the transformation of oil-paper umbrella functions and expanding e-commerce channels.
Zhou Hanyu, who has chopped Nan bamboo to make umbrellas in Changshan since he was a child, said that as a craftsman, Changshan, which is full of green bamboo, is his most powerful "backer". Zhou Le, a new generation of intangible cultural heritage inheritors who grew up with the Internet, feels that the new platform is becoming the "backer" of the old craft, giving this skill more fresh vitality.
Old craftsmanship: 82 processes are constantly repeated, and new inspiration is drawn from the south and north
As one of the three major schools of umbrella making technology in China, the history of stone drum oil paper (cloth) umbrella can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty, and a large number of Jiangxi immigrants migrated to Xiangtan in Hunan Province, bringing the paper umbrella making process to become a good craft for Xiangtan people to make a living and support their families.
▲Stone drum oil paper umbrella is one of the three major schools of umbrella making technology in China, which can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty.
The oil-paper umbrella is also a means for the Zhou family to support their family. Shigu oil paper umbrella, take Changshan Nan bamboo nearby, with Anhui rice paper, Xiangxi tung oil, fish glue raw lacquer as the main material, choose bamboo, cut the umbrella bone, drill, put together, thread, on the umbrella surface, brush tung oil... It has gone through a total of 82 processes, large and small.
As long as I can remember, the picture of his parents making oil-paper umbrellas together has been imprinted in Zhou Hanyu's memory. Zhou Hanyu said that the brothers and sisters in the family, only they chose to inherit their father's craft, perhaps because their personality is similar to their father, "speaking is not a strong point, prefer to delve into the kung fu of the hand." If the quality of the oil-paper umbrella is not satisfactory, his father will punish him for repeated practice or even overnight, repeating step by step until dawn, which is a common thing.
This experience also allowed Zhou Hanyu to inherit his father's craftsmanship and become the fifth generation of the stone drum oil paper umbrella technique. Although he is not good at words, but forced by life, Zhou Hanyu has been walking south and north alone to run business since he was fifteen or sixteen years old. His parents and surrounding villagers can make five or six hundred oil-paper umbrellas a day, and Zhou Hanyu is responsible for going out to sell. A little closer to Shaoshan, as far as Hangzhou, Suzhou and other places. Without a partner, Zhou Hanyu took samples and ran all over the attractions.
"I show people our products, and they think the quality is good. Again, we produce our own direct sales, the price is also good, and there are quite a few customers who place orders. Zhou Hanyu recalled that he met many tourist attraction owners and artists in the running business, and the attraction boss would put forward requirements for Zhou Hanyu's oil-paper umbrella: such as longer umbrella handles, more bulging umbrella surfaces, and brighter patterns... In the process of dealing with artists, Zhou Hanyu had a new inspiration: the Xiangtan folk painting style represented by the calligraphy and painting master Qi Baishi was transplanted to the umbrella surface of the stone drum oil-paper umbrella. This makes the artistic function of the oil-paper umbrella fuller.
▲Zhou Hanyu transplanted the Xiangtan folk painting style represented by Qi Baishi to the surface of the Shigu oil-paper umbrella, completing the functional transformation of the oil-paper umbrella from practical to artistic.
Over time, Zhou Hanyu's stone drum oil paper umbrella became famous. In 2016, he took advantage of the trend to open Xiangtan Yuchang Umbrella Company, and co-opened a physical store with friends. The oil-paper umbrella business was once prosperous, and even exported overseas.
The sudden outbreak of the new crown epidemic in 2020 interrupted the development momentum of the oil-paper umbrella business. Zhou Hanyu did not expect that at this time, his son Zhou Le, who was in his early 20s, found a new way for this old craft.
New craftsmen: recruit young people to open up a new track of e-commerce, and aim at young people to create the "top stream" of national style
"In our town, as long as there is bamboo in front of the house, we know that this family is making oil-paper umbrellas." In Anle Village in early summer, the greenery is thick, and Zhou Le shuttles through various farmers familiarly, greeting the old people in the Xiangtan dialect. The old people smiled and exchanged pleasantries with Zhou Le, and the Nanzhu from Changshan was assembled in Zhou Hanyu's factory through their handmade processes, and then sold to the whole country through online platforms such as Zhou Le's Pinduoduo store.
Zhou Le said that due to the complicated production process of oil-paper umbrellas and the limited capacity in the factory, his father Zhou Hanyu arranged for special personnel to send materials to farmers' homes, so that they could split umbrella bones, drill holes, thread and other operations at home. After completing a batch, a special person will be arranged to transport this batch of "semi-finished products" to the farmers responsible for completing the next process, and finally carry out unified recycling.
▲ In Shigu Town, Xiangtan County, almost every household will make oil-paper umbrellas.
Like his father Zhou Hanyu, Zhou Le's childhood memories are inseparable from oil-paper umbrellas, and he helps his father do the simplest process to earn pocket money. Of course, there are also moments when he was taught by his father: once, Zhou Le reversed the position of the short umbrella bone and the long umbrella bone, and Zhou Hanyu used the way his father taught him to reassemble Zhou Le, and then repeated this process until Zhou Le memorized it like a conditioned reflex.
"It was also that time that I felt the subtlety and unshakability of traditional craftsmanship, each process has its own principle, and an oil-paper umbrella is the natural result of all materials and processes." Zhou Le said that it was also this experience that made him really like oil-paper umbrellas and traditional craftsmanship.
As a generation that grew up following the Internet, Zhou Le's first choice during the college entrance examination was e-commerce - he hoped that he could sell the oil-paper umbrellas made by his father and fellow villagers further through e-commerce platforms. Because of his scores, he was transferred to the chemical materials major, but he did not give up and chose to minor in e-commerce.
After entering the university, Zhou Le joined the school's Hanfu Club and Guoxue Club. He found that traditional culture is very popular with the younger generation of his age, and his own oil-paper umbrella, as a representative of traditional skills, can be well integrated with the popular Hanfu and ancient styles.
E-commerce, the focus is on practice. In 2018, Zhou Le, who was only a sophomore, began "real combat". He gathered the same village and friends he met at school, set up an e-commerce team of 9 people, settled on platforms such as Pinduoduo, and sold oil-paper umbrellas in a different way from his father's time.
▲Oil-paper umbrellas have almost become the standard for antique photography. Zhou Le introduced that the main users of his Pinduoduo store are concentrated in the group of young people aged 15-25.
"My target consumers are very clear, that is, young people who like ancient fashions." Compared with Zhou Hanyu's troubles about not being able to recruit young people as apprentices, Zhou Le's team was formed exceptionally smoothly. In the team, some people are good at photography and are responsible for shooting various antique videos and pictures as the main picture of the product; Some people are good at content operations, and "plant grass" on social platforms such as Douyin and Xiaohongshu where young people gather. As the sixth generation inheritor of the stone drum oil paper umbrella, Zhou Le believes that he has become a new generation of "craftsmen" different from his father: "In terms of craftsmanship, I don't have my father's skill, but I know how to use new platforms and new technologies to let more people know and like stone drum oil paper umbrellas, so that this craft is more vibrant." ”
Non-genetic inheritance: 500 oil-paper umbrellas are sold online every day, and e-commerce helps old craftsmanship rejuvenate
Zhou Le still remembers that in the first few days of the opening of the Pinduoduo store "Xiangtan Yuchang Old Umbrella Shop", he didn't have time to take care of the operation, just put the products on the shelf, and suddenly several orders came. He was pleasantly surprised.
Compared with making oil-paper umbrellas, which are polished day after day, e-commerce operation is a more challenging job. Before Zhou Le's stone drum oil-paper umbrella was put on the shelves, he found that the oil-paper umbrella shops were named in the simple and crude way of "No. 1 umbrella" and "No. 2 umbrella". As a representative of traditional craftsmanship, oil-paper umbrellas are inseparable from "literature and art". In an evening self-study class, Zhou Le, who was reading ancient poetry, suddenly had an idea: the oil-paper umbrella has different styles and patterns, but they all have an ancient charm, so why not use classical poetry to name the oil-paper umbrella? "Butterfly loves flowers", "birdsong streams", "falling flowers", "Yan Xiaoyu"... Zhou Le looked at the umbrella surface one by one and quickly collected the words in his mind. His oil-paper umbrella became the first product with these poetic names on the Pinduoduo platform, and quickly attracted the favor of young consumers and Hanfu culture lovers.
At first, Zhou Le only used e-commerce as a side hustle, and in his spare time in college, he expanded his father's oil-paper umbrella to expand online sales. But he didn't expect that after two or three years of operation, the store on Pinduoduo could sell four to five hundred oil-paper umbrellas every day, and often burst orders. When my father's offline physical store was affected by the epidemic, my own online store became the main sales channel for oil-paper umbrellas. As soon as he graduated from university, Zhou Le decided to do e-commerce full-time and sell oil-paper umbrellas.
▲In addition to opening an online store to sell oil-paper umbrellas directly, Zhou Le and his father also built an oil-paper umbrella research base in Shigu, teaching traditional culture lovers to make oil-paper umbrellas.
The Changshan bamboo forest behind the house has also become Zhou Le's creative "treasure land". He often brings the shooting team and Hanfu models to shoot various antique videos and beautiful photos. These contents often attract popularity on social platforms, "a video can sell an oil-paper umbrella". According to Zhou Le, most of the online store customers are 15-25 years old, with Guangdong and Henan having the most consumers, "both of which are provinces where traditional culture and Hanfu culture are very prevalent."
As a new generation of non-genetic inheritance, Zhou Le is also innovating the oil-paper umbrella process based on consumer feedback. "Oil paper umbrellas need to be brushed with tung oil to be waterproof, but tung oil smells greater." Zhou Le said that he is currently discussing with the university's chemical engineering teachers how to use activated carbon to break down the smell of tung oil and purify the air.
"It's good that the younger generation has ideas." Talking about his son's oil-paper umbrella business, the stern Zhou Hanyu also showed rare affirmation: "In recent years, regardless of the environment, online sales have been very stable, and e-commerce has given us craftsmen a sense of security." Today, one or two hundred local villagers follow Zhou Hanyu to make oil-paper umbrellas, which can produce 2000,3000-<>,<> umbrellas a day, most of which are sold through Zhou Le's e-commerce stores, and "Xiangtan Yuchang Old Umbrella Shop" has also climbed all the way to the top of the best-selling list of Pinduoduo craft umbrellas.
The career of Zhou Hanyu's father and son has also driven the local oil-paper umbrella industry. Up to now, there are more than 50 refined oil paper (cloth) umbrella production and related enterprises in Shigu Town, Xiangtan County, with an annual output of 600 million finished umbrellas, accounting for one-third of the total output of craft umbrellas in the country. The relevant person in charge of Shigu Town introduced that governments at all levels are increasing support for the oil-paper umbrella industry, promoting the construction of industry associations, and planning to achieve an annual output value of more than 3 million yuan in the oil-paper (cloth) umbrella industry in 5 to 5 years.