From mountainside to mass production

Upscaling china’s age-old crafts for a wider audience.

Photography by Frances Lin & Pak Fung Wong

China crafts

At Furnace, we love all things tech. Likewise in China, the buzzwords among the industrialised masses are all about progress: smart technology, intelligent manufacturing and mass entrepreneurship.

But the Greek word “tekhnologia” alludes to the “science of craft”, so we occasionally like to scout out the artisan’s workshop. As well as being the world’s factory, China is home to the world’s biggest community of craftspeople. Yet these small-scale operators are in danger of being forgotten.

Just in the nick of time, two photographers have started documenting them. Poet and artist Frances Lin, and Eugene Lin – co-managing director at international product design firm IDEO in Shanghai – kicked off their journey in Yunnan, south-west China. They snapped some of the 152,000-sqmile province’s 24 ethnic minority groups showing off their centuries-old skills sets.

The Lins unearthed experts in embroidery, batik dying, loom weaving and woodblock printing. “A lot of the photos we took happen to be textiles, because each ethnic minority group has their own distinctive garments and this is a point of pride for them,” says Frances.

The couple hope that their initiative, Song Expeditions (, will raise the profile of these makers and perhaps even help them commercialise their output. Though this won’t be an Amazon Prime-style operation. “A complete garment can take up to a year, sometimes even two, to complete,” Frances adds.

Song Expeditions’ next venture has more obvious retail potential. The focus will be on food, and the tools and vessels used to concoct traditional dishes. This time, the Lins will have an industrial designer in tow to create a range of cookware with master artisans. These pieces will be manufactured by one of China’s most prestigious cookware companies and sold in stores and online.

Take-out: every product has the potential to up-scale, with the right vision and backing

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