Customers choose oil-paper umbrellas at a stall in a night market in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. HUANG ZHONGZHI/XINHUA
HANGZHOU－Wen Shishan, 57, wandered through a bamboo grove holding a machete in search of materials to make oil-paper umbrellas, a craft dating back more than a 1,000 years.
Situated in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, Wen's workshop is streamed online and boasts more than 800,000 followers on the popular Chinese short-video platform Douyin. The digital interest in the ancient handicraft can be credited to short-video maker Zhang Jianhua.
In 2018, Zhang started helping Wen film the production process of the oil-paper umbrellas. The artisan is driven by a desire to keep the delicate craft alive and he is heartened by the thought that his delicate creations are being viewed on thousands of smartphone screens.
"For the first time in my more than 30 years of making the umbrellas, many people are taking an interest in the craft," he said. "The lives of craftsmen like me have changed beyond recognition thanks to the internet."
According to Zhao Pu, head of the China Arts and Crafts Center, in the digital era, master craftsmen have increasingly turned to online channels to promote their skills and earn recognition.
In contrast to Wen's unfamiliarity with the internet, Zhao He, a 33-year-old maker of enamel dials, feels comfortable talking about his work processes and watch brands while he is in front of the camera.
Since May 7, when Zhao He uploaded his first video on Douyin, he has attracted more than 10 million followers.
One of his most popular clips, in which he made a watch out of models of meteorites, has been viewed more than 100 million times on the platform.
Liu Tong, another online celebrity who is a master of paper folding, now cooperates with the World Wide Fund for Nature to display endangered wildlife in the form of art.
In 2016, Liu made a paper rhino out of a 10-meter-long square sheet in memory of Sudan, believed to be the last northern white rhino born in the wild.
"We want people to realize that the art of paper folding is not merely an ornamental handicraft, but something that can convey ideas, culture and emotions like protecting the environment," Liu said.
Zhao Pu said traditional craftsmen using livestreaming and new retail business models is the current trend.
He added that China plans to establish more platforms such as forums and universities for artisans to better promote their products.
"Everyone hopes the internet can help the craftsmen find their niches and allow consumers who are interested in handicrafts to purchase their products," Zhang said.