In its efforts to preserve Chinese cultural and artistic heritage, Sibu’s Chinese Culture Art Association now offers classes in the art of stilt walking, paper-cutting, and lion dance, among others.
Preservation of Chinese culture and tradition is now the top priority of Sibu’s Chinese Culture Art Association. The association, which was formed last May, now has 16 members. It will hold classes next month for members and locals who are keen on learning about the ancient art of stilt walking,Chinese opera, mask changing and many more.
Trainer Lim Hoon Eng, who is also the association’s Women’s Section secretary, said the association welcomed anyone regardless of their racial and religious background.
“Starting from next month, we will conduct classes in Chinese opera, stilt walking, traditional Chinese dances, traditional Chinese paper cutting, lion dance, dragon dance and mask changing,” Lim told Star Sarawak.
She said before the association was formed, there was no common platform for people interested in Chinese culture to learn and practise together. Lim said she started learning Chinese opera at the age of 12 in 1976, and two years later, learned how to walk on stilts.
“My late grandmother used to bring me to watch the opera during the various festivals at the Tung Lok Sia temple near our house,” Lim recalled.
She was very fascinated by the mysterious, colourful and noisy performances. Her keen interest caught the attention of the temple management who then invited her to join the temple’s opera team. She said over the years she had the opportunity to perform Chinese opera and stilt walking during the various festive and cultural events in Sibu.
She even got to share her knowledge in the ancient art with a number of people.
“It will be easier now for me to teach others. I intend to conduct three classes each week.
“There are already more than 30 people who have registered to learn Chinese opera and stilt walking next month,” Lim said.
She said the association had spent more than RM40,000 on costumes, accessories and props from China for the opera. The right costumes, colours and makeup complement good opera skills, she stressed.
“We now have 300 complete sets of costumes for different kinds of characters,” Lim said, adding that the headdresses, hair ornaments and shoes were also very important.
On stilt walking, the 178m-tall Lim, who was a national basketball player from 1985 to 1990, said it was advisable to start learning and practising the ancient art at a young age. Children, she said, learned to walk on stilts very fast.
“Our youngest member is only eight years old. It took him just a few hours to learn how to walk on stilts.
“The most important criteria is to be bold and brave and not afraid of falling. It needs lots of practise,” she said.
When asked if stilt walking is related to a religion or certain religious rites as sometimes hell money was burned and prayers chanted to ask for divine protection, Lim replied with a “no”.
“It is just a traditional practice,” she said.
Burning of hell money and chanting of prayers were only done at a religious event, she said.
Hii Mei Yung, a secondary school teacher who is also a member of the association had volunteered to teach “Jian Zhi”, the art of traditional Chinese paper cutting.
This artform was usually practised only by palace nobles in the old days. It was traditionally a female activity where every girl was expected to master it.
In the modern age, paper cuttings are, however, mainly used for decorations on the walls, windows, doors, columns and lanterns. They are also used to decorate gift boxes or are given as gifts themselves.
“They can be in all kinds of forms and shapes, even in the form of animals, insects, flowers, trees, buildings, Chinese characters and the 12 zodiac signs,” Lim said.
Another member Edmond Wong Yik Tze will be holding classes on “Bian Lian”, the art of mask changing. He is currently the only mask-changing “master” who performs in public in Sarawak. He learned the skill from a Chinese master last year.
Wong had so far invested more than RM7,000 on costumes, props, masks and hats.
“I need to practise about two hours daily to perfect my skills. There are also some special techniques to master,” he pointed out.
Wong will also be teaching magic tricks. He had acquired the skills from various magicians in Asia and Europe about a decade ago.
“To perform good magic tricks, you need lots of props and practice. I can perform more than 100 tricks now,” he said. – By Philip Hii
The Chinese Culture Art Association is located at No. 56, Lorong 1, Jalan Lanang, Sibu, Sarawak.