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Craftsman embodies pioneering spirit in boat creations

China Daily Global| Updated : May 24, 2021

HANGZHOU-Every month, Han Minghua comes to Nanhu Lake just to take a look at the red boat, one of the most iconic boats in the country.

"It's like visiting an old friend," says the 67-year-old craftsman from Jiaxing city, Zhejiang province. Over the last 20 years, Han has created more than 200,000 big and small models of the red boat.

The red boat is a replica of Jiaxing's historical boat, honoring the conclusion of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1921.

A hundred years on, the CPC has grown from a small party of some 50 members into the world's largest party with more than 90 million members. The CPC celebrates its centenary this year.

About 15 kilometers from Nanhu Lake, Han's studio is filled with piles of wood. On the eastern side of his rural yard studio sits a 6-meter-long red boat model.

In the studio, Han is busy crafting another red boat model made of red sandalwood.

"I plan to make 100 such models as a gift for the Party's centenary," he says.

Han's craftsman career began 20 years ago, when he was the owner of a home appliance repair store in Jiaxing.

"I remember welcoming a friend from afar, but didn't have anything to offer as a souvenir," he says. "So I thought, maybe I should learn to craft something on my own, so that when friends come to visit, I have something special to give them."

Han thought hard about what best represents Jiaxing, before coming up with the idea of making red boat models.

"The red boat is just iconic," he says. "Besides, I grew up around the river in Jiaxing, and I have always been quite familiar with boats. I even created a small boat model when I was 12."

Han did not know how to draw pictures, but images of boats were deeply ingrained in his mind.

"I made a cutter myself, and used home decorative materials to make the boat models," he says.

In Han's eyes, the models are not toys, but symbols of China's history and culture.

"You need to respect history and culture," he says. "The CPC sailed toward the future on a boat 100 years ago, and the red boat is a spiritual symbol for every Chinese person."

When he first started out, Han visited Nanhu Lake again and again to examine the details of the red boat.

"The red boat is under protection, and you cannot go on it to measure it, so I just used my feet to calculate its size on the bank," he says.

Han's footsteps measured 30 centimeters each, and he managed to determine the boat's size after countless walks along the bank.

To make his creations more authentic, he resorted to a variety of measures.

"For example, the door of the boat cabin features carved pictures, so I bought sandalwood fans and cut the parts with engraved flowers on it to use as raw material," he says.

As there were no nails used on the red boat, Han made sure none of his creations had nails.

"I also put asphalt in the cracks of the boats' bodies to seal them up," he says.

Through his hard work, one of his red boat models was added to the collection of the Nanhu revolutionary museum.

Museum employees say Han's boat model is accurate in terms of proportion, and details on the model are quite delicate.

In 2009, one of Han's boat models won the top prize in a national tourism souvenir competition. Han became a provincial-level inheritor of intangible culture in 2018, and his brand Minghua Red Boats gained fame in Zhejiang.

These days, Han continues to make creative boat models.

"My latest boat model is created according to specific proportions," he says. "It is 71 cm in length, 19 cm in width and 21 cm in height. And together, the numbers can be read as July 1, 1921, which is the birthday of the CPC."

Han says such creative works are his pursuit of not only art, but also the red boat spirit, which highlights pioneering work, striving spirit and dedication.