Thanh Tiên village can be found in the Phú Mậu commune of Phú Vang district in the Thừa Thiên ward of Huế city. It sits on the southern bank of the Huong River, which is 7 kilometres from Hue city. Every year from Tet to Spring, the village bristles in colourful confetti from the beginning to the end of its streets. Adding to this liveliness, Thanh Tien is also abundant in bougainvillaea trees that line the winding village roads where people bike to and fro, some passing by from faraway travels to sell goods to locals in the area.
Historically, the people of Hue have used Thanh Tien’s paper flowers as decoration for their sacred altars, and still hold a position of significance in their culture today, as a reminiscent symbol of the ancient capitals’ traditions and beliefs. Though demanding, the craft of paper flowers has been preserved by the villagers of Thanh Tien, who have passed the skill down from generation to generation, continuing a historic tradition of nearly 400 years.
While at first glance the paper flowers seem simple to make, that is not true. To produce a branch and its petals, the artist must have a clear eye, experience, patience and ingenuity to produce the delicate crafts.
A few months prior to Hue’s rainy season, workers will begin preparing materials for the making of the flowers. They begin by choosing high quality bamboo and cut them into small and then pieces to be left to dry into flower stalks. To make the paper for the flowers, workers hand-dye the petals with an unrevealed non-industrial dye of blended colours made from resins and the leaves of trees. As they dye the flowers, they use a technique to create an ombre effect, after which the newly dyed flowers are placed in a dry location. This dye can stay for 2-3 years without any upkeep necessary.
The basic paper flower making process is done through 3 stages:
- First, by cutting the paper into the shape of flowers, using chisels to shape leaves. Then, artisans will fold to create the lines and dye it before leaving it to dry.
- Secondly, they cut tinfoil to make a pistil (bud) and use the bamboo as a stem, after which they attach the flower onto it.
- Last, they manipulate the flowers once more to ensure it looks finished and securely attached.
The most meticulous stage is often when the artisans create the folds for the flower, as if it is uneven the petals will be displaced and causes the finished product to look mistaken. The most skilled artisans can make about 20 flowers a day.
Some flowers that are often made are orchids, lilies, roses, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, wallflowers, among others. These flowers are mostly made for places and uses of worship and rituals, so often they are only in production during Tet, but the village also makes beautiful paper lotus flowers.
On most occasions of worship, the people of Hue will always buy a few branches of the paper flowers in addition to their fresh flowers as an offering to their gods, ancestors and shrines. The paper flowers adds beauty as well as uniqueness that reminds worshippers of the Hue spiritual traditions. Today, tourists often visit Hue during the traditional craft village festivals held by the city once every two years. The Thanh Tien paper flower village is indeed a particularly attractive tourist destination for visitors curious to learn about the cultural life and handicrafts of a peaceful and historically rich village.
Photo: shutterstock, Country