Chinese edible art – 能吃的艺术
Drawn candymen – 画糖人 (huà táng rén)
When speaking of traditional Chinese folk art forms, edible arts need to be mentioned. For example, sugar painting and sugar blowing.
Sugar painting is a traditional folk handicraft that has existed for more than 600 years. It dates back to the Ming Dynasty. It is particularly popular in (though not limited to) Northern China. The only tools needed to make candymen are a spoon and a shovel. Red or white sugar is boiled on the stove with a slow fire. Sometimes pigments are added to make it red or green. The sugar is then used for modelling the characters.
Novel and opera characters, flowers, fruits, birds, beasts and other characters are the key inspiration figures of candymen makers. These delicate sweets are a favourite of Chinese children.
Sugar drawing artists usually prepare a few eye-catchy drawings in advance to attract customers. Some children are also not patient enough to wait for their candyman to be finished and just want to eat it straight away!
So that the candyman won’t stick to the slate where it’s being drawn, the slate is smeared with oil. The sugar syrup condenses very quickly on the slate, that’s why the artist must do it quickly and in one stroke. This is a real test of the craftsman’s experience and skills.
Blown candymen 吹糖人 (chuī táng rén)
The artist first heats sugar using a small charcoal stove, then extract a sugar ball and knead it with his hands. Then he inserts a thin straw into it and blows some air to inflate it. The sugar syrup expands like a bubble that the artist pinches and pulls with his fingers or tweezers to create various shapes. The twelve animals of the zodiac are a favourite of blown sugar artists.
Decades ago, when sweets were widely available, people loved to eat sugar drawings and blown sugar figures. Nowadays, people are less keen on eating these edible pieces of art for obvious sanitary reasons. But it is a chance this craft hasn’t been lost. It can often be admired at scenic spots. Children still love watching the expert skills of sugar drawing and sugar blowing artists, and foreigners also find it very interesting to see.