Flower plaques (花牌 faa pai, in Cantonese) are decorated bamboo structures, typically used for celebrations such as business openings, weddings, and anniversaries. Versatile, lightweight, and temporary, they are made from bamboo frames, wire mesh, paper, fabric, and plastic. Their parts are modular, reusable, and easily assembled and stored. While they resemble memorial arches used in other parts of China, they persist at this large scale primarily in southern China.
Today in Hong Kong, a dozen or so florists continue to make flower plaques. These craftspeople create pieces for storefronts as well as for the facades of temporary bamboo theaters.
Wing Kei Flower Shop 榮基花店 is a workshop in New Territories, Hong Kong, that specializes in making traditional bamboo structures for rituals, anniversaries, restaurant openings, and other special occasions. Owner Choi Wing Kei 蔡榮基 learned the craft from his father who had been a bamboo scaffold worker before shifting his focus to making flower plaques for the next several decades. Choi started working with his father when he was thirteen years old, and he established the business—which he runs with his brother—in the mid-1990s. This is one of only a handful of such businesses in Hong Kong that have the knowledge and skills to work in all aspects of bamboo structure-building, from scaffolding to ritual structures and temporary theaters.
Chau Kai Ho 周啓豪, who has been training and working in the business for over three years, also provided demonstrations every day of the Festival. He, like many young people in Hong Kong today, did not previously pay much attention to the tradition of flower plaques. Since working in the craft, he has found satisfaction in meeting the challenges presented by each different project and in the camaraderie of the workshop.
China is the world’s most populous country and second biggest economy. Its rates of industrialization and urbanization are unprecedented. The largest rural-to-urban migration in human history is underway as people move from the countryside to seek work in China’s expanding cities. People face both new opportunities and daunting challenges as they adapt to shifting circumstances and try to reconcile the dynamics of development with cultural and ecological sustainability.
The 2014 Festival program highlighted REUNION and BALANCE, traditional principles that are of greater value than ever in China. Reunions animate and sustain tradition. And as people are increasingly separated from one another by the demands of work and education, they find ways to reaffirm ties to community and cultural heritage both in their daily lives and for special occasions. A traditional Chinese perspective posits that all things - everything from one’s health to a community’s welfare - depends on a balance of internal and external forces. In China today, people are navigating the transformations that emerge from modernization and from frictions between work and leisure, past and present, development and conservation, and global, national, and local traditions.
More than a hundred culture bearers from China participated in the program. Representing 15 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, as well as some of the largest and smallest of the 56 officially recognized ethnicities, they provided a window into the country’s diversity. They demonstrated how people sustain a rich range of traditions even as communities are disrupted by migration, natural disaster, and the pressures of contemporary life. At the Festival, they demonstrated the artistry with which balance and reunion are realized within and across communities, and between humans and their environment - both through the changing seasons and in a changing world.
James Deutsch and Sojin Kim were Program Curators; Jing Li was Program Coordinator; and Joan Hua was Program Assistant. Advisors and consultants included: Joan Auchter, Rachel Cooper, Robert Daly, Melanie Fernandez, Yong Han, Bill lvey, Joanna C. Lee, Jing Li, Jun Liu, Adriel Luis, Shengde Ma, Jean Miao, Rodrigo Fritz, May Sun, Sue Tuohy, Jingqiang Wang, Sally Van de Water, Lihui Yang, Yuan Yang, Nora Yeh, Juwen Zhang, Zhizong Zhu, and Nina Zolt.
The program was produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in padnership with the China lnternational Culture Association, working with the China Arts and Entertainment Group. Additional support was provided by the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong SAR; and the Guizhou Provincial Department of Culture.