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“Sugar rabbit” created by a Xinjiang inheritor of sugar sculpturing art echoes the Year of the Rabbit

Shiliuyun - Xinjiang Daily (Reporter Li Li) news: Ladle up hot molten sugar from a copper pot with his right hand and tilt the small ladle slightly, then constantly move the ladle above an aluminium plate while drizzling out the hot molten sugar... After 29 seconds, a vivid “sugar rabbit” is painted on the plate. Around the Spring Festival of the Year of the Rabbit, Liu Xiaoqing, the inheritor of intangible cultural heritage of Chinese sugar sculpturing art, has made many “sugar rabbits”.

Photo shows Liu Xiaoqing, who can make a “sugar rabbit” in less than 30 seconds. (Photo by Shiliuyn - Xinjiang Daily/ Li Li)

The sugar painting looks crystal clear with its smooth and round lines under the sun, radiating a golden shimmer, and tiny bubbles in congealed sugar add a bit of aesthetics. During the Spring Festival holiday, people walk on streets or in parks holding lively “sugar rabbits”, catching eyeballs.

Photo shows a vivid “sugar rabbit” made by Liu Xiaoqing. (Photo by Shiliuyun - Xinjiang Daily/ Li Li)

“The arts of Chinese sugar painting, sugar blowing and sugar molding are categorized as sugar sculpturing,” said Liu. He introduced that sugar painting, in Chinese folks, is also called “Dao Tangren’er” (figures made by drizzling liquid sugar) or “Dao Tangbing’er” (pastries made by drizzling liquid sugar). As a folk handicraft, sugar painting first appeared on downtown markets, in countrysides and at temple fairs. Traditional sugar painting patterns are the 12 Chinese zodiac signs, flowers, birds, fish, insects, etc. Sugar painting embraces the features of both food and art, it is edible and appreciable, so it is popular among people.

Melting sugar requires fine controlling of heat. Syrup would taste charred and bitter if the heat is too high. Syrup concentration should be modest, or it would be too thick to flow, or so thin that would flow too fast, which could make lines heavy. Before making sugar painting, one should clarify the mind about the patterns and the syrup needed, and manage to finish a painting with one ladleful of syrup. And during the painting, hesitation and pause should be avoided, so as to make out a painting smoothly.

Photo shows Liu Xiaoqing is enclosed by people as soon as he starts making sugar painting. (Photo offered by himself)

Sugar painting is not as simple as it looks.

Liu Xiaoqing who was born in 1980s has made sugar painting for 16 years. He learned the skills from his mother when he was a child, then went to Tianjian and Jiangsu in 2007 to learn from masters. Under the guidance of masters, he trained himself for melting sugar, as well as some sugar painting skills such as shaking, pressing, scraping, plastering and levering in great concentration. He also learned blowing, pulling, rubbing, tearing, pinching, pressing, cutting and other sugar sculpturing skills, and touched some modern sugar arts such as sugar pulling. After he came back to Urumqi, he became a sugar craftsman at a western restaurant of a hotel.

Photo shows Liu Xiaoqing makes a “sugar rabbit”. (Photo by Shiliuyun- Xinjiang Daily/ Li Li)

“There are fewer and fewer people engaged in traditional crafts, and I want to pass traditional sugar painting on,” After some consideration, Liu quit his job in 2018, opened a studio at Qifangjie creative industrial cluster zone in Urumqi City, and became a professional craftsman who is dedicated to making various sugar art works of sugar sculpturing, sugar pulling and fondant.

There are snow mountains, grasslands, pines, yurts and sheep in the artwork “Beautiful Xinjiang”, apples, grapes, pomegranates and sweet melons in the artwork “Xinjiang Fruit Basket”, and vivid flowers in the artwork “Blooming”... Sometimes, it costs him a whole day to make a sugar flower. Making sugar art requires great patience.

Photo shows the sugar art work “Beautiful Xinjiang” made by Liu Xiaoqing. (Photo offered by himself)

In addition to refining sugar art skills, Liu often visits art museums and museums, looks through books in libraries and book stores, and checks and browses sugar art information on the internet such as the information about world-class dessert competition. “I want to make renovation on the basis of inheriting traditional sugar sculpturing techniques.”

Photo shows the sugar art work “Xinjiang Fruit Basket” made by Liu Xiaoqing. (Photo offered by himself)

In recent years, Liu has been often seen at many intangible cultural heritage exhibitions and China-chic blocks. He, who wears a maroon Chinese stand-collar coat with double front neckline sleeve opening with Chinese Knot Button, sits straight in front of counter top and carefully makes sugar paintings. Many young parents would ask their children whether to buy a sugar painting, which is a childhood memory for them. Liu expects to present the handicraft to more people and let the sweetness in the memory last forever.

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