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Gu Yeguang, 53, was nominated as an intangible culture heritage inheritor for his traditional handmade lanterns. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

 

In the day, the view of Wuzhen is dominated by white walls and brown wooden doors, but this scene changes spectacularly in the night when the different lights in the water town create a stunning kaleidoscope of colors against the black sky.

Of all the shops in Wuzhen, the one selling traditional handmade lanterns stands out the most during the night.

The man behind these exquisite creations is Gu Yeguang, a 53-year-old craftsman who was born into a family of lantern makers in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

Although Gu has spent nearly his entire life making lanterns, he has never grown weary of the profession, saying that getting to teach the craft to young people is what motivates him these days.

He admitted that he picked up the craft not out of interest, but simply because he was forced to help out with the family business.

"My classmates would go out to play after school but I had to go home to help make lanterns," he said.

"But when I got older, I started to appreciate the beauty of handmade lanterns. I also got a sense of satisfaction from seeing my own creations."

To craft the frame of the lantern, Gu chops bamboo into long and thin sticks before using a candle to scorch the areas that need to be manipulated. After bending the sticks, Gu binds the ends together and wraps the completed frame with paper.

Gu"s creations, which can be found in a variety of forms such as rabbits, stars and lotus, won many awards in competitions held at lantern fairs in Nanjing during the 1990s. In the early 2000s, Gu was invited by schools of all levels in Nanjing to conduct lantern-making classes so as to help students appreciate the beauty of traditional crafts.

In 2010, Gu was nominated as an intangible culture heritage inheritor for his craft and his works were subsequently showcased at the Shanghai Expo. That same year, Gu was also invited by Wuzhen Tourism Co to operate a lantern workshop in the old town"s Xizha area.

Gu"s creations are an important element in the annual lantern festival in Wuzhen which takes place on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

"In the past, it was a tradition to cross a bridge while carrying a lantern and a medicine jar. While on the bridge, people would throw the jar into the water because they believed that this action could "cure a hundred illnesses" for the year ahead," said Gu.

"Nowadays, people no longer throw jars into the water. But carrying a lantern while crossing the bridge is still something everyone does."

The lantern workshop is without doubt one of the most popular attractions in Wuzhen. According to Gu, the workshop would receive more than 100 people during its opening hours from 9 am to 5 pm during the peak summer season. To craft a simple round lantern costs 30 yuan ($4.54). The more unique ones cost 50 yuan each.

After a large group of people departs the workshop following their short class on lantern making, Gu returns to his seat and continues work on an intricate dragon-shaped creation. But before he could even pick up his tools, a small girl and her mother enter the space.

"Mummy, mummy, I want a lantern!" the girl exclaimed excitedly.

Gu raises his head and gets back on his feet.

"Sure, let"s get started then," he said. "Let us begin with this bamboo stick."

And with those few words he lit up the workshop, not with his lanterns but the child"s cherubic smile.