Foshan gold foil, a fading traditional craft

Foshan China 2017-05-19

With a history of nearly 1,700 years, gold foil is a Chinese traditional craft that originated from Dongjin and became mature in Nan Dynasty. Longtan, Nanjing is the cradle of gold foil.


In Song Dynasty, Chinese people in the central plain moved to the south in a large scale, bringing advanced production artistry and culture to the Lingnan region. Thus, the craft of gold foil was introduced to the ancient town Foshan along with the immigrants, which has been about one thousand years till nowadays.


In Ming and Qing Dynasty, the commodity production and economy of Foshan was flourishing. In 1888, there were four foils thriving (gold foil, silver foil, copper foil and tin foil), with more than 100 shops and 8,000 practitioners in this industry in Guangdong. With frequent folk activities in Foshan town and nearby villages, gold foil became an important handicraft product at that time and was sold home and abroad.


In the early Republic of China, due to frequent wars and turmoil, the sales of gold foil was decreasing. In 1915, there were only 13 gold foil shops in Foshan.


In 1955, in order to save gold foil craft and other traditional folk artistry, part of private-owned and family workshops were merged into a jointly owned "crepe factory. During the Revolution of Culture, gold foil was thought as items of feudalistic superstition and stopped from producing and exporting. In 1981, with the reform and opening-up policy, a Foshan old craftsman Wu Baoguang set up Lianhe Gold Foil Factory and runs it till now.


So far, this is the only gold foil forging factory in Guangdong and Wu Shenlong, the son of Wu Baoguang is the only successor that grasps the whole procedures of making gold foil. One-gram gold can be made into gold foil with a thickness of 0.12 mm and a size of 0.5 square meters. If pulled into a gold string, it can reach 25 kilometers.


From a gold particle to a piece of gold foil, there are 16 procedures, including melting gold, pulling gold, hammering foil, baking gold foil and cutting gold foil. They all need delicate works, among which hammering foil is the most delicate.


When hammering foil, thin gold pieces similar to the size of a finger nail needs to be placed between the center of the square coal paper layer by layer. 2,048 pieces of coal paper make a square package, which is wrapped by a layer of craft paper and hammered on stone. After being hammered for thousands of times, the finger-nail-size gold pieces stretch to the size of a plate. When learning to hammering foil, it takes three years to learn the way of using hammer. Wu Shenlong said that because the iron hammer weighed 16 kilograms and he wielded it all the time, his right arm was clearly stronger than the left one.

Wu Shenlong insists to hammer gold foil by hand.


Cutting gold foil is also a technical work. The extended gold foil was placed on the coal paper, pick it up gently with bamboo sticks, cut it into small pieces, exhale with mouth and get the gold foil onto Yukou paper. During the process, gold foil cannot be touched by hands. The final product is stuck to a piece of Yukou paper that is 4.5cm * 5cm, as thin as a cicadas wings and as light as a feather.


"You have to make an appointment to see me. Wu Shenlong said. As the price of gold is rising, he hoped to expand the sales of products and increase profits. Only 5 workers are left in the factory and complicated procedures, few orders, high cost and low profit have become the obstacles of developing this traditional craft. Experts think that the gold foil has to actively step out, making more people and more industries understand and realize its value.


In more than 30 years, with the excellent skills of forging gold foil, the products of Wu Shenlong not only have exported to regions of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries, but also widely used in figures of Buddha in tens of temples, including Guangzhou Giant Buddhist Temple and Guangxiao Temple, Shaoguan Yunmen Temple, Foshan Ancestral Hall, Changsha Kaifu Temple, etc., making great contributions to the development of Foshan gold foil craft. In July, 2009, the 九龙如意(nine dragons and best wishes) gold foil wooden carving of Wu Shenlong won the golden prize of Inheritance and Innovation——Arts and Crafts Exhibition held by Chinese Arts and Crafts Institute. In 2012, the gold foil forging craft of Wu Shenlong was listed in the Guangdong Intangible Cultural Heritage Catalogue.


Source: Pearl River Times, Foshan Daily,