Beijing's intangible cultural heritage resources can be found everywhere in its history. After more than ten years of continuous excavation and collation, Beijing is in the front rank of the representative projects of national intangible cultural heritage in China. In particular, over the past decade, Beijing has made significant progress in the protection of intangible cultural heritage in terms of policy system, promotion, sustainable development, social participation, and innovative development.
Beijing Embroidery, also known as the Palace Embroidery, was originally made for the imperial household. The pattern of Beijing Embroidery is mainly dragon and phoenix, expressing "happiness and honor". It is one of the eight exquisite handicrafts of Beijing, and was listed in the fourth batch of national intangible cultural heritage list in 2014.
Li Fengru, the inheritor of Beijing Embroidery, moved to Beijing from Tianjin with her parents when she was 3 years old. She used to live in Hutong, next to Zhengyangmen Gate. When she was a child, her father used to take her to the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven to see the patterns of Beijing Embroidery. Now she has become a "guardian of Beijing's intangible cultural heritage". In her eyes, although intangible cultural heritage is invisible and untouchable, it never stops flowing in this soil. Nowadays, she can clearly feel the importance that Beijing has attached to the protection of intangible cultural heritage in recent years, such as the opening of training courses for inheritors and the organization of various exchange activities.
Li Fengru goes to the vocational school twice a week to teach Beijing Embroidery. After purifying her hands, she burns a piece of incense and plays some classical music. This is a ritual when she is embroidering. Born in 1955, she knew from a young age that Beijing Embroidery was a delicate job that could not be rushed and could only be done well if one sank the heart into it.
Li Shutang, Li Fengru's father, is a fifth-generation representative inheritor of Beijing Embroidery. He entered the embroidery workshop at the age of 10 and raised his five children with a pair of skillful hands. At first, Li Fengru sat on a small bench and watched her father thread the needle on the tapestry, but because she was short, she could only see the bottom of the embroidery. At that time, she was amazed that the embroideries by her father's hands were clean even on the reverse side.
Most of the threads used in Beijing Embroidery are expensive and delicate. Burrs and callus on rough hands may cause hairiness and unevenness in the embroidery, which seriously affects the quality of the embroidery. During the embroidery process, they never talk, for fear of spittle falling on the embroidery, "Once the spittle falls on the embroidery, it will be ruined, and that stain cannot be removed."
From the time she started working to the time she retired, Li Fengru never stops polishing her technique. The embroidery frame at home is always open, and she embroiders piece by piece. "Learn the tradition first, and then create." Li Fengru has also repeatedly demanded that if someone wants to inherit the intangible cultural heritage, the basic skills must be solid and the techniques must be perfect. "The traditional things cannot be abandoned," she says.
The thinnest needle in Beijing Embroidery, the No. 12 needle, is as thin as hairline, so it is extremely difficult for beginners to hold it comfortably. In Li Fengru's eyes, this is the first step in honing one's will. Embroidery tests the eyes and brain, but before that, one must learn to be upright and have good moral cultivation. Only those who are righteous can produce good embroidery.
The protection of intangible cultural heritage is closely related to people, materials, and the daily life. In Li Fengru's eyes, living in Beijing, intangible cultural heritage is deeply embedded in her life and feelings.