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Little landscapes lead to big bucks in Anhui

China Daily| Updated: February 7, 2023

Hong Yu, who is part of China's post-90s generation, spends much of her time on e-commerce platforms touting penjing, miniature landscapes that have been created in her home village.

"What you're seeing right now is a traditional handcrafted dragon-shaped penjing," Hong told her online followers recently as she broadcast from her family garden in Maihuayu, a village in a mountainous area of Anhui province.

Sometimes compared with bonsai (which means "tree in a pot"), the Japanese art of creating miniature trees, penjing (which means "landscape in a pot") is more complex. This ancient Chinese art, from which bonsai is derived, does not focus on the miniaturization of single trees, but rather on making entire landscapes out of artistically shaped miniature trees, plants, rocks and even water.

Some penjing don't even include trees at all. The ones Hong sells are Hui-style penjing, which originates in Anhui. It took her less than three minutes to sell the exquisite example she was holding during the broadcast.

Hong started livestream sales of penjing in February last year after deciding to explore markets for the traditional art form. It has now become a job she does six days a week.

"So far this year, about 80 percent of my family's sales have been online," she said, adding that she is full of energy and hopes to expand the business.

In Maihuayu, penjing-making skills are passed down from generation to generation. Today, with the help of e-commerce and favorable policies, the art still benefits villagers.

Nearly all of the 236 families in Maihuayu are engaged in the business, and the village made over 25 million yuan ($3.69 million) last year.

"The villagers' lives are getting better, and their creative enthusiasm is growing. No one wants to sit idle, so they spend their time creating new products," said Xu Yulong, a village official.

Encouraged by the changes in Maihuayu, many villagers who left have now returned, especially the young.

There are currently around 60 people under the age of 35 practicing Hui-style penjing in the village, injecting new vitality into the thousand-year-old art.

Furthermore, with business flourishing, more villagers are getting involved in creating new styles to attract more customers.

Hong Hai, 58, has created a kind of small, delicate "finger penjing". With prices as low as 10 yuan, it has become a popular item among younger customers.

"When my hometown began to get better developed, I chose to return in 2014 to start my own penjing business. Now, my income is twice what I earned working elsewhere," Hong said.


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