ZHONG JIAN SHEN: Last August I dreamt I was doing the woodcarving for the Yueyang tower. The Yueyang tower is one of the most important historical towers in the province Hunan, it is very famous. Actually I did the polishing for the tower. There are some parts of the dream that I don’t remember very well. I dreamt that my master was teaching me how to carve a dragon, how to carve its claws, or how to carve a flying phoenix, how the wings unfold, and how to make a cloud. Then on the second day, I could draw them out. Being a woodcarver, I have more than a hundred different carving knives and chisels. First I carve out the main structure, like the bones of a human body, then I carve patterns very carefully, and then comes the polishing. Then it’s almost done. Finally we clean everything and compare the sculpture with the original picture. Where it hasn’t turned out right, we have to correct it immediately. Then finally the sculpture is handed over for transport.
I’m from the province of Hunan. At first I lived in the town of Nanxian, later I moved to Yueyang. Ever since I was a young man, I’ve maintained my whole family with my craft. In the 60’s, life was not so easy. We had to work on farms or in factories and we had to give 60 RMB per month to the Production Team, which controlled the land and the work. When China started to open up, we had more freedom so I could go to other places to work in my craft. There was no need to work on farms or in factories anymore and the money I earned belonged to me. After I moved to Yueyang I didn’t do any woodcarving for a few years.
Five or six years ago, someone invited me to Beijing to work as a woodcarver, so I spent one year in Beijing. But then I fell ill and went back home to take a year off from work. In 2007 I was invited to carve a Buddha statue, and at the same time the reconstruction of the towers in Yueyang was initiated. The project leader asked me to work there and I accepted. So I had work until the end of the year. I was very busy.
Last year there was a tourism festival in the province of Hunan, and we had to do a lot of work before the opening. Many foreigners came to visit the Yueyang tower and the Junshan Park. I worked on both of them. After that, I started working in a factory that produces ornaments for decoration. For example, we made two dragons for a building in Xiangtan. The dragon and the phoenix represent happiness and auspiciousness.
This year, the boss of the factory in Beijing called me again and asked me to come here, so that’s why I’m in Beijing again. I’ve been working here for seven months now. My whole life depends on my abilities as a craftsman. I came from a little village and got the chance to live in the city after China started to open up. It all depends on my craft whether I can survive in the city.
In another dream, I dreamt that I went to Beijing. Chairman Mao called me and we had a conversation. He asked me what I was doing now. There were a lot of administrators and they asked me to take part in a conference. It felt very strange. I hadn’t spoken much in the dream but I was delighted to see chairman Mao. Then I woke up because I was so excited.