CHONGQING, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Chaosong, 20, is operating a century-old loom at a very fast speed with the shuttle spinning in the air in a factory in Rongchang District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
The Xiabu cloth he is weaving is made of ramie, also known as "Chinese grass." The cloth was exported to Japan and other countries as a hot commodity as early as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Rongchang Xiabu was one of the earliest exported products of Chongqing in the 20th century, with an annual output of about 700,000 bolts. As a pillar of the local economy, Rongchang Xiabu has been witnessing a growing output value, which reached 2.01 billion yuan (about 300 million U.S. dollars) in 2020, up 7.17 percent from a year earlier.
"Xiabu is environmentally friendly as it requires less water in the production process. It is a good fabric for making summer clothes, as it can absorb sweat and dissipate heat," said Yan Tailiang, the proprietor of the company Zhang works in.
Yan added that last year, the company produced 30,000 bolts of Xiabu worth 20 million yuan. And 60 percent of the orders the company received were from Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK). In the first quarter of this year, the exports to Japan and the ROK have already reached 5 million yuan.
Yan and Zhang both inherited the weaving technique from their parents as this technique is normally passed down from generation to generation. The machines they currently use have a time-honored history.
Except for these local craftsmen, foreigners are also showing interest in the Xiabu industry.
Ivan Andrew Chen, a 33-year-old Indian man, settled down with his wife Tang Yi in Rongchang in 2019, and they are working to spread the Xiabu culture.
Ivan worked in the aviation industry previously and traveled to more than 60 countries. Not until he met his wife, whose family has been running Xiabu business in Rongchang for over 30 years, did he find that "Xiabu is a high-quality fabric that could rival silk, cotton, and linen."
"Xiabu can be made into lots of products and should have a broader market. My wife and I want to create a story to tell and let more people know about it," said Ivan.
Ivan and his wife have opened a Xiabu-themed hotel and spa in Rongchang. Since the leaves of ramie are edible, he is also planning to open a restaurant featuring organic food.
While Ivan and Tang are trying to create a lifestyle inspired by Xiabu, Tang's cousin, Ma Linqin, who is applying to be a municipal-level inheritor of Rongchang Xiabu, is focusing on developing products made of Xiabu.
"We have already launched hundreds of products, like sheets, clothes, and notebooks. We also cooperate with ROK companies to make tailored products to win more customers," said Ma.
Ma also mentioned that it is important to plant a seed in young people's hearts. "I often teach children about the knowledge and weaving technique of Xiabu, hoping that some of them can step into the Xiabu business in the future," said Ma.