My family—RONG荣, has a tradition of working as ironsmith. This tradition has passed from generation to generation. I spent most of my childhood being with my father and grandfather, when they were working in their shop and the sound of iron-forging had accompanied me along while I was a kid. This tradition has deeply influenced me, and I still feel sentimental when thinking about it. Since this skill is so unique in China, I truly wish that my children and grandchildren can inherit this tradition which is no longer common in modern days.
Land of Abundance
The Sichuan Province can be described as ‘the Heavenly Country’ in ancient China, meaning it is a place with rich natural resources. Not only that, Sichuan also has a pleasant climate, rich resources in water and countless iron mines, all making the area one of the most important places for making iron and knives. With its favorable natural conditions, Sichuan is the place where a lot of ironsmith’s shops were given birth. It is not rare to see one master leading and teaching a couple of apprentices, while at the same time being occupied with his bellow (during the iron-smelting process, a manual bellow is used to deliver additional air to the fuel, raising the rate of combustion and therefore the heat output), iron furnace, whetstones (a sharpening stone used for knives) and hammers. In a traditional, family-run Chinese ironsmith’s shop, this is a very common scenario. Such a practice has run for thousands of years and no major changes have ever taken place. And since this practice has sustained for such a long time, the Chinese knife-forging skills and technology have been inherited by the later generations. This inheritance is still ongoing without cessation, even in nowadays’ China.
A Small & Traditional Blacksmith Shop
RONG AI 荣爱 is a traditional ironsmith’s shop located in a small village,China. It has a history of over 280 years and has been taken care of by 13 generations. Back then, it was just an ordinary ironsmith’s shop among all the other millions of them. It didn’t have a huge variety of products and the cutlery tools that had been forged could only be sold to the people living nearby. However, people admired their knives as they had a high quality and a reasonable price. Also, they were made with abundant materials and were very durable. People thus always returned to RONG AI 荣爱 whenever they needed new products. As time went by, even with the increased development of technology, RONG AI 荣爱 insisted on forging its ironware and knives manually.
12 Important Steps
Each of the kitchen knives made from “Rong Ai”荣爱 goes through 47 complicated processes, of which 12 are the main processes. Every process has undergone numerous improvements. An experienced blacksmith master performs even the most straightforward process. The material was transformed from a cold piece of steel block into a sharp, handy and traditional kitchen knife. Every process is marked with the hard work of the blacksmith master.
In the Central and Western regions of China, there are less and less traditional blacksmiths. In general, ordinary teenagers are reluctant to spend four or five years to be an apprentice to learn iron-forging skills. However, we are not willing to witness the disappearance of this traditional profession in our era. It’s all because this profession has been cultivating the craftsman’s spirit and the soul of traditional Chinese handmade manufacturing for thousands of years. While imparting craftsmanship spirit, the master also conveyed the virtues of patience, concentration, and persistence. This is a must-have character for all craftsmen. The cultivation of this trait can only rely on emotional communication and behavioral influence among people. It cannot be materialized by the organizational system and operational processes of modern large industries. The passing of the “Craftsmanship Spirit” relies on the natural inheritance of words and deeds, it cannot be recorded in words, nor guided by procedures. It reflects wholly the historical value of the old-age mentoring system and family heritage, in which a rich Chinese culture is sufficiently emphasized.
Slow & Exquisite
Through its knives and cutlery tools, RONG AI 荣爱conveys a message–“it’s important to work slowly”. Taking the style of Chinese ironsmiths as an example, they’ve reached an exquisite level of their products by taking their time, and they’ve succeeded in innovating their products as well.
Every Knife Has Its “Soul”
Perhaps the knives of “Rong Ai”荣爱 do not represent the highest level of traditional Chinese hand-made knives, nor do they represent the Chinese traditional knives as a whole. However, we always insist on creating each knife with heart, so that each knife has what we usually call “spirituality.” We ought to pursue the pace of our ancestors and create tools that embody Chinese cultural characteristics.