The Story of Chinese Wicker Animals

The Origin of Bamboo Wicker Animals 

Bamboo wicker animals have their roots in the late 1960s in Shengxian County (now Shengzhou), Zhejiang Province, China. The pioneer behind this innovative craft was Yu Zhang Gen, a highly skilled bamboo weaving artisan from Shengxian County and the leader of the innovation team at the Shengxian Artistic Bamboo Weaving factory.

In 1965, during a visit to Hangzhou, Yu Zhang Gen noticed the keen interest of several foreigners in porcelain animals. This observation sparked the idea of using bamboo strips to weave animals. Collaborating with other artisans on the team, they managed to create the first bamboo wicker animal—an elephant (serial number 98)—within a week. The initial response to this creation was significant, marking a breakthrough in the field of bamboo weaving.

the first wicker animal is an elephant

Yu Zhang Gen chose the elephant as the first animal subject because of its round body structure and straightforward features, making it an ideal starting point for an innovative product.


 Despite this success, Yu Zhang Gen believed that the craft of bamboo wicker animals could be improved, especially in emphasizing the body form and expressions of the animals. In the spring of 1966, Yu Zhang Gen and the team successfully crafted the second animal: a rooster (serial number 336). This marked the true birth of bamboo weaving animals. Over time, the recorded varieties of bamboo weaving animals have numbered in the hundreds, with many different animal shapes complementing various everyday items.


Selection of Bamboo Woven Animals

The Shengxian Artistic Bamboo Weaving Factory places a strong emphasis on product innovation. Within the bamboo weaving factory, there is an innovation team consisting of 25 skilled bamboo craftsmen, including Yu Zhang Gen. Each team member typically designs and produces six to eight pieces of artwork annually. Bamboo wicker animals are particularly popular among international markets, with the majority being exported abroad. The innovation team selects animal figures after understanding the customer's culture. For example, in the United States, eagles and owls are highly favored, while in Japan, turtles and koi fish symbolize good luck. Therefore, artisans design a variety of bamboo weaving animals based on the different needs of customers.

Moreover, the innovation team visits the Hangzhou Zoo to study animals, aiding in their creative process. Samples created by the innovation team are sent to the provincial import-export company for selection (i.e., the label on the wicker bamboo animals indicates Shanghai Handicrafts or Zhejiang Handicrafts). The chosen pieces are retained, while those not selected are returned to the bamboo weaving factory. When foreign customers place orders with the provincial company, the import-export company informs the bamboo weaving factory about the required production quantity and delivery time.


The information above has been summarized from publications on Shengxian bamboo weaving and interviews conducted with former artisans from the Shengxian Bamboo Weaving Factory.

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