Intangible cultural heritages reclaim popularity by riding the tide of short videos

Photo/Xu Lianlian (NBD)

Apr. 19 (NBD) – "The umbrella skeleton is turning on the tip of clever fingers. Paper is cut and glued onto the skeleton, a total of 12 layers. The umbrella is then oiled over and over and decorated with natural flowers... After one hundred procedures, a delicate oil paper umbrella is given birth."

This is the second video that Yu Wanlun, an inheritor of time-honored oil paper umbrella, published online, taking the video-sharing site Douyin by storm and drawing 199,000 likes.

At the short-video era, intangible cultural heritages (ICH) seem to welcome new opportunities and be commercially reinvigorated.

TikTok Tuesday launched a project named "ICH Partners" to promote ICHs and tap both the cultural and business values of the ancient handicrafts. 

At the news conference, TikTok revealed that as of this April, more than 24 million videos have been produced regarding 1,214 national-level intangible cultural heritages out of 1,372 in total and have received over 106.5 billion views on the video-sharing site.

Eyeing the popularity of ICH-related videos, a fleet of MCN (multi-channel network) firms have been contacting inheritors of those traditional handicrafts, making videos and publishing the works on short-video platforms.

Yu Wanlun, an inheritor of oil paper umbrella in Luzhou, southwest China's Sichuan Province, is one of those who benefit from the online wave of ICH-related short videos.

Before he made a fortune via short videos, he could barely make a living with his umbrella-making stunts due to a shortage of orders.

In the second half of 2018, Yu signed a contract with a MCN company that focuses on ICHs and afterwards opened a TikTok account dubbed "master of oil paper umbrella".

In the views of the company's founder Bi Jinhua, more and more people are fond of traditional handicrafts, which is why it's necessary to make ICHs closer to ordinary people.

Yu's account has released over 60 short videos, garnering over 2.6 million thumb-ups and 239,000 followers.

Yu told NBD the orders of his oil paper umbrellas are even scheduled to next year. 

In addition to oil paper umbrellas, other exquisite crafts including clay sculpture, Hangzhou embroidery and shadow puppetry are also trending on TikTok.

"There is indeed a striking contrast between traditional culture and modern fashion," Bi added, "but the contrast could also resonate with users and stimulate their sympathy."

However, the spread of contents online is far from enough to support inheritance of ICHs. A more comprehensive supply chain to exploit commercial values should be set up.

Some people love to shoot videos about handicrafts but don't buy the products afterwards, which is exactly what Bi is banking on, dealing of artware. 

In the future, there will a broader space to run the business such as developing offline handicraft teaching lessons as well as selling materials online.

How to produce youngster-catered video contents, standardize the products, as well as foster more inheritors also remain difficulties of the ICH-related business.

"Chinese craft masters are excessively undervalued," noted Zhang Jianhua, founder of a MCN firm. The company hankers for exerting more positive impacts on finding inheritors who hold the key to intangible cultural heritages.

 

Email: gaohan@nbd.com.cn