Recently, the names of the first nationwide selection of rural master craftsmen were announced.

Mao Liujun, a participant in the "Rural College Student Cultivation Programme" and a 2018 Business Administration major from Yongzhou Open University, was selected. He is one of just four individuals from the province to receive this honour.

Mao Liujun is a distinguished inheritor of the Yongzhou Wood Carving (Jiuyi Wood Carving), a provincial-level intangible cultural heritage in Hunan Province. The Jiuyi Wood Carving has a history of a thousand years in Ningyuan and is deeply influenced by Chu culture. It features distinct regional characteristics and embodies the unique charm of Jiuyi. Growing up at the foot of Mount Jiuyi, Mao Liujun was captivated from a young age by the wood carvings on architectural brackets, doors, windows, and furniture. These carvings depict scenes of folk life, historical and mythological figures, auspicious patterns, and landscapes, and some even narrate stories through a series of carvings. The simple yet mystical art of wood carving became Mao Liujun's initial pursuit and his definition of "beauty."

In 2002, to alleviate his family’s financial burden, Mao Liujun dropped out of school before turning 18. Feeling lost and standing beneath the familiar Mount Jiuyi, he gazed at the silent stone-carved balustrades in the breeze. It was then that he felt a spark of inspiration and resolved to master the craft of Jiuyi wood carving, aiming to improve his family’s livelihood and change his own destiny.

Over the next decade, with a carving knife in his left hand and a mallet in his right, Mao Liujun dedicated himself to wood carving day after day. Gradually, his craftsmanship gained recognition beyond his village and spread across the country. By then, he had realised his dream of living a well-off life through his exceptional skills.

In 2009, Mao Liujun established his own business, "Mao Mao Wood Carving Studio," marking the beginning of a broader journey to inherit and promote Jiuyi Wood Carving. At that time, he embraced a grander dream: to engage more people in appreciating the charm of Jiuyi Wood Carving and to promote the culture of this remarkable craft.

In 2016, Mao Liujun made his debut in a national craft competition, showcasing his creations at the "Fengyu Awards," often referred to as the "Oscars" of China's collectibles industry. There, he won a national gold award.

Following this, his works were recognised and displayed in various arts and crafts competitions throughout the province and beyond, highlighting his talent.

During the process of managing and developing his business, Mao Liujun, who had dropped out of school early, felt a pressing need to "recharge" his academic skills. It was then that he came across an enrollment advertisement for the "Rural College Student Cultivation Programme" at the Ningyuan tutorial centre of Yongzhou Open University. This programme, specifically designed for rural officials and leaders in wealth creation, offers adult education with a focus on online learning supplemented by face-to-face instruction. It effectively bridges the gap between work and study while enhancing practical skills. Discovering this opportunity was like finding timely rain for Mao, who then enrolled as a Business Administration student in the 2018 at Yongzhou Open University.

Over three years, by day, he was the inheritor of Jiuyi Wood Carving and the head of "Mao Mao Wood Carving," diligently passing on his skills and energetically managing his business. By night, he was a student at Yongzhou Open University, earnestly watching the lecture videos and meticulously taking notes.

“I could always contact my teachers for help when I encountered difficulties or didn't understand something during my studies. Sometimes, the school also arranged professional teachers or experts to come to the factory to guide us on site, which was very convenient and practical!" Mao Liujun said.

Mao Liujun has consistently applied the professional and management knowledge he acquired from Yongzhou Open University to the operation and management of his business. Today, his "Mao Mao Wood Carving" is widely recognised and has become an icon of the preservation of Jiuyi Wood Carving skills. Leading a team of experienced carpenters, he has undertaken projects such as the restoration of ancient buildings and the construction of new buildings in antique style in Mount Jiuyi and its surrounding areas. This has helped perpetuate the art of wood carving throughout the Jiuyi region.

In 2019, Mao Liujun ambitiously founded the Ningyuan Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum in Yongzhou Ningyuan. This museum integrates a variety of local intangible cultural heritage items, including Jiuyi Wood Carving, and offers free admission to the public. It provides a unique platform for showcasing and exchanging intangible cultural heritage specific to Yongzhou.

"My idol isn't a celebrity, but Grandpa Yuan Longping. He dedicated his life to hybrid rice research. As craftsmen, we must study harder, master our craft to the fullest, and bring beauty to people through our efforts. We should enhance the beauty of our hometown and preserve our nation's folk crafts," said Mao Liujun modestly and earnestly.


By Hunan Open University