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Paper lanterns illuminate road to prosperity for women in Fujian's Jian'ou city by Wang Jinli,July 03, 2020 Adjust font size:

More than forty women brush paste onto frames, apply colored paper, hang their creations out to dry, pack them when they are ready, and complete other tasks at the Beiye Arts and Crafts Co. Ltd. in Jian’ou city, Fujian province. They are busy skillfully manufacturing a variety of unique paper lanterns.

Jian’ou is known as the home of Chinese paper lanterns. A relatively complete paper lantern industry value chain involving paper cutting, paper dyeing, printing, mold making, thread wrapping, design and other processes has formed in the city over the last 30 years. Most of the paper lanterns that are made in Jian’ou are exported to the US, Europe, and other countries and regions. The city was responsible for about 80 percent of the 1 billion yuan (US$140.91 million) of output value that China’s paper lantern exports reached in 2019.

More than 10,000 women from 18 towns and districts in Jian’ou have been able to increase their incomes by participating in the paper lantern industry.

New engine for women’s employment

It can be difficult for women to balance family responsibilities with their work. The paper lantern manufacturing process is relatively simple, and people can begin working in the sector quickly, which has made it a good option for women in Jian’ou. The lanterns are made out of glue, thread, paper, metal, and other materials at factories, and employees even have the option of working at home.

Jian’ou has developed China’s traditional paper lantern craft into a thriving industry that employs many women and has a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities. The 300 main paper lantern companies in the city have played a major role in targeted poverty alleviation and have made it possible for thousands of households in many villages to increase their incomes.

Limin Arts and Crafts Co. Ltd. employs people from 21 of the villages in Jian’ou’s Fangdao town. It is the leading enterprise engaged in targeted poverty alleviation in Fangdao and provides impoverished employees with a monthly subsidy equivalent to an extra 5 percent of their salaries. Nearly 200 women each earn about 4,000 to 5,000 yuan (US$564 to US$705) of annual income by working at the major paper lantern companies in the town.

Yu Jianli, a native of Fangdao’s Wudayuan village who was born in the 1980s, founded the Hongxique Arts and Crafts Factory a few years ago and is optimistic about the industry. Twenty thousand of the company’s paper lanterns were given to the Chinese government as a special gift to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China last year, and they were used to decorate Tian’anmen Square during the 2019 National Day holiday period in Beijing. The brand subsequently became much more popular, and demand began to increase. One customer even went to Yu’s workshop several times and bought every type of lantern that the company makes.

“Paper lanterns have helped women become prosperous in Jian’ou,” Yu explained happily.  

New driver of rural revitalization

Colorful paper lanterns hang around many of the doors in Gaoli village, Xiaosong township when the weather is good. Many of them were put there by women who work in the sector in order to dry them.

Yang Changhua is part of the Jian’ou Women’s Federation and is also the head of Gaoli’s poverty alleviation team. She persuaded a paper lantern company to establish a 100-sq m factory equipped with molds, drying machines and other equipment in the village where she works and conduct a free, three-day training program for women who want to work in the industry on the 2019 International Women’s Day. The facility features safe working conditions and good management and is a good option for women who want to work in their local area.

Huang Yuzhu is a 73-year-old Gaoli native who was impoverished until a few years ago. Working in the paper lantern industry, enrolling in the basic medical insurance program, and other measures made it possible for her to escape from poverty in 2016. Huang makes up to 30-40 paper lanterns per day and earns nearly 500 yuan (US$70) a month. Her income is expected to increase by more than 3,000 yuan (US$423) this year.

Li Jing and her mother-in-law Huang Guiying have been working at the paper lantern factory since it opened. They are regarded as benchmarks of efficiency by the other women in the village. Li used to work as a migrant laborer but returned to her hometown last year in order to help take care of her family. The two have been working at the facility in their spare time ever since it was established. They manufacture nearly 200 paper lanterns a day and earn more than 2,000 yuan (US$282) a month.

Li commented: “I am able to look after the elderly in my family, do farm work, and also make lanterns. I cherish this job and look forward to improving my life.”

More than 20 women make paper lanterns in Gaoli, including two who are registered as impoverished. Their annual incomes have increased by a total of about 160,000 yuan (US$22,546).

“This year we are encouraging more women to work in the industry near their homes,” Yang mentioned.

Design and entrepreneurship training

The paper lantern business employs a lot of people, but many of them have tended to stagnate and are only involved with manufacturing. Jian’ou’s paper lantern companies have accelerated the pace of product design and provided more training opportunities in recent years. They have also made efforts to enhance the cultural connotation and value of their lanterns.

Jian’ou established a paper lantern development and training base in December 2019 that covers areas such as entrepreneurship, design, culture, production, molding, and paper cutting. More than 20 women learned about processing techniques and product design at the first training session.

Lian Zhoujin, general manager of Jian’ou’s Jianzhou Culture Group, began making lantern accessories in 2007 and got involved with product development and design in 2012. In recent years, she has travelled with her employees to Ningbo city, Zhejiang province; Xiamen city, Fujian province; Guangzhou city, Guangdong province; and other locations to learn new techniques, which led to her team creating more than 100 additional products by experimenting with shape, color, pattern, and other aspects of the lanterns. Their new offerings sell for two to three times more than their older ones. Designers usually earn several hundred yuan more than lantern manufacturers as well.

“It is of great significance to families and society that women can work near their homes,”  Jian’ou Women’s Federation President Qiu Minfang noted. “In the future, Jian’ou will fully harness the advantages of the paper lantern industry, strengthen skills training for women so that they can design lanterns in addition to manufacturing them, and accelerate related poverty alleviation efforts.


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