Tradition Mission

Art in a bottle

Updated: 2010-12-24 08:30

By Cong Fangjun (

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Painted snuff bottle is a traditional Chinese handicraft. Commonly used raw materials include glass, crystal, amber, and agate. Dating back nearly 200 years, its initial function was for carrying snuff, but now it has mainly become an artwork. Enjoying the painted bottle is much like appreciating Chinese painting, since they both reflect the essence of Chinese traditional culture. The only difference is that tradition painting is done on Chinese rice paper, while bottle painting is done inside the bottle.

This painted bottle is a special category of art. The artist has to adopt a reverse angle operation, that is, "view picture from the front but do it from the opposite side". The brush hook stretching into the small bottle is a special pen, which requires tremendous skill in painting and calligraphy with a keen sense of art. Like Chinese traditional painting, bottle painting requires a sense of composition, mood, colors, seals and other inscriptions. Despite the small space inside the snuff bottle, the picture is filled with colorful spirits, thus winning the hearts of many art collectors of all ages.

Interview:Yang Zhigang,folk artist

"I came into the Art Factory at the end of 1981. In March or April of 1982, I became a student of my master. It has been 29 years to date."

Yang's teacher is Liu Shouben, a master craftsman of Chinese contemporary art and representative of Beijing inner painting. It was one of his snuff bottles that Queen Elizabeth II received during her visit to China in 1986. During China's first Olympic bid in 1993, Liu gave a live performance as the representative of Chinese folk artists in Monte Carlo.

Interview:Yang Zhigang,folk artist

"My master has given me a lot of things that exert subtle influences on me, which I need to try to comprehend. In the past when I was young, in the factory, to accomplish the production task for a living, I failed to understand a lot of things. But in recent years, when I was really exposed to the application of the intangible cultural heritage, I came to fully understand my master, and now I have special respect for him from the bottom of my heart. He has been practicing this art for 50 years, and is still making new creations. He hopes I can carry this forward, which I am very willing to do. I find humility and sought-after spirit in him, and I hope I could do the same, thus to truly inherit these things and pass it down."


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