Eighty-year-old Chan King-fat perches on a plastic stool on a busy sidewalk in Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong Island’s main shopping districts, as the Chinese New Year approaches.
His easel is a small folding table on which he draws delicate strokes on the traditional fin red background – making traditional decorations known as ‘Fai Chun’.
Chan hangs his work on makeshift ropes that he sells for 35 Hong Kong dollars (€4) each.
he made Chinese New Year calligraphy for over a decade, determined to preserve a dying tradition.
What is Fai Chun?
Fai Chun is a traditional decoration frequently used during Chinese New Year (otherwise known as Lunar New Year) and is usually celebrated over several days. This year, it starts on February 1.
Chan’s decorations consist of a red paper banner, which usually bears a series of beautifully written Chinese characters.
Customers take the banners home and display them on and around the front door and other doors inside the home.
The colors and calligraphy evoke a sense of celebration and warmth, perhaps like setting up and decorating a Christmas tree at home in other countries.
The decorations are meant to invoke hopes of luck, prosperity and happiness.
Many feature well-known phrases, some are more inventive, designed to reflect the concerns of the time.
Chan found the “welcome spring and good fortune” ornate decoration to be the most popular among customers.
Preserving a dying tradition
Despite the popularity of Fai Chun, there has been a decline in handwritten craftsmanship – primarily due to the convenience of printed versions of mass-produced decorations.
Mass-produced decorations with ubiquitous red and gold themes fill markets and shops across Hong Kong during the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year.
However, Chan is determined to preserve the handwritten craftand believes that people still prefer more traditional decorations.
Hongkongers are very careful about the style of writing Chinese charactersand it’s not just about what font is used.
The mastery of the brush, the creativity, the verve and the detail of every stroke are truly appreciated, especially when it comes to auspicious decorations for the Lunar New Year.
Debbi Tsang, a client, was immediately drawn to Chan King-fat’s beautiful writing.
“You can see that this calligrapher’s handwriting is really very beautiful. Now it’s really hard to find someone who can still write Fai Chun so beautifully. So we would like to buy some to decorate our house,” says -she.
For seven years in a row, Edith Ho and her husband Lee Ka-mong have set up their calligraphy pop-up before the Lunar New Year on a steep stair alley in Hong Kong’s trendy Sheung Wan district.
They offer both traditional Chinese character ‘Fai Chun’ and others with creative elements, modern illustrations.
Ho also thinks that people still value handmade calligraphy more than mass-produced versions of decorations.
“I think handwritten artwork always adds a human touch, and that’s something genuine. No matter how advanced the internet and printing are, these types of artworks still lack the originality of the artist at the time of creation”, she adds.
Calligraphers like Chan, Ho and Lee are rare, but they are respected for their individual efforts to stay alive. beloved traditions.
Watch the video above to see Chan King-fat in his element.