Skip to main content

Preserver of Traditional Craft of Bamboo Carving | Yeh Ji-hsiang

  • Date:2023-03-03
Preserver of Traditional Craft of Bamboo Carving | Yeh Ji-hsiang

Chinese Name: 葉基祥

Born: 1968

Place of Birth: Nantou County (Central Taiwan)

Did You Know?

In 2011, Taiwanese bamboo craftsmen Yeh Ji-hsiang, Lee Rui-ke (李瑞科), and Lin Jian-cheng (林建成) worked with the internationally renowned Brazilian furniture designers Campana Brothers, using Taiwan’s makino bamboo as the material for bamboo tube chair called “Wave,” that looks like the name would imply. The Taiwanese craftsmen and their skills left Campana Brothers amazed.

Yeh Ji-hsiang, a bamboo carving craftsman, was born in Zhushan Township, Nantou County, one of Taiwan’s major bamboo producing areas. Since the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), bamboo processing has been an important local industry, and various bamboo crafts have emerged alongside it, including bamboo carving. Because Yeh’s family was engaged in exporting bamboo products to Japan, he grew up with a close relationship with bamboo, becoming more familiar with it as a material than ordinary people. He also experienced the gradual decline of the once-prosperous traditional bamboo processing industry through the fate of his own family’s factory.

While the industry was in decline, not only did Yeh not give up working with bamboo, he in fact chose to switch to bamboo carving creation and development during the summer vacation of his sophomore year of high school as an art student, trying to open up another world of possibilities. Yeh Ji-hsiang found that very few people in Taiwan use bamboo for artistic creation. In view of his extensive knowledge of bamboo materials, he earnestly studied sketching, calligraphy, and watercolor to set down a solid artistic foundation, using his summer and winter vacations to study under teachers in Taichung. Under the guidance of famous bamboo carving master Chen Ming-tang (陳銘堂), he laid solid groundwork in bamboo carving, and Yeh’s works soon gained attention in the craft world.

Yeh Ji-hsiang has now been involved in bamboo carving for more than 30 years, and he has become adept at a variety of techniques that he can switch between with ease. His works draw inspiration from his everyday surroundings, especially things like lotuses and frogs, which are not only ecologically interesting, but also have cultural relevance. In addition to creative work, he is also enthusiastic about the work of promoting bamboo carving. To do so, he was invited to serve as a lecturer and instructor of a bamboo carving crafts class and participated in the publication of a special book, setting down a solid foundation for the future of Nantou’s bamboo carving industry.

According to the Cultural Assets Preservation Law of the Nantou County Government, the newly registered (in 2022) craft of bamboo carving is considered a traditional craft of Nantou County, and Yeh Ji-hsiang has been identified as the first preserver of this craft. The Cultural Affairs Bureau will also further promote the preservation and maintenance of bamboo carving craftsmanship to keep the craft alive and passed on to future generations.

Yeh Ji-hsiang can be said to be a leader in the bamboo carving art world. Due to the difficulty of bamboo carving, there are relatively few bamboo carving artists in Taiwan, and ordinary people are relatively unfamiliar with bamboo carving art. To promote the art, Yeh Ji-hsiang has combined bamboo art with functionality, hoping that through by making the artistic part of life, he can help bring ordinary people closer to bamboo carving.

Bamboo carving is a handicraft with high appreciation value thanks to its various decorative patterns and characters on bamboo utensils or the carving of bamboo into various furnishings and household items, Buddha statues, figures, crabs, or toads. Bamboo carving has a long history, one which goes back to both China and Japan. Its process starts from material selection and material treatment (corrosion, drying, coloring, etc.), and then goes through sawing, composition, rough modeling, detail modification, sanding, dyeing, and painting. The process of completing a work is a long and complicated one.

Traditional bamboo carvings are mainly used as decorative items, and hanging screens or three-dimensional works are common. Taiwan’s contemporary bamboo carving art focuses on the character of the artist, but the carving procedures are still complicated and limited by the characteristics of bamboo, requiring the ultimate use of imagination in a limited space.

Bamboo carving is a highly technical traditional art. The characteristics of bamboo make it far more difficult to control than wood. Taiwanese bamboo has fine fibers and high hardness, making carving more challenging. Creators must be familiar with special basic techniques, and the push and pull of the knife’s strength is the key to success. In addition to technique, the art also emphasizes expression and inner aesthetic cultivation.

(Photo courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of Nantou County Government)