Bamboo carving means to carve various ornamental patterns or characters on bamboo items, or make ornaments from bamboo roots by carving. China is the first country in the world using bamboo articles. The extant bamboo carving item early in age is the painted lacquer bamboo ladle unearthed from the Western Han Tombs No. 1 in Mawangdui of Changsha. Decorated with dragon and braids designs using bas-relief and fretwork techniques, it is a highly finished rarity.
Since the mid-Ming Dynasty, bamboo carving developed into a special art. At the very beginning, there were only a few well-educated artisans working for bamboo carving. As bamboo was easily available, more and more people started to join in this craft, some by learning from others privately, until bamboo carving became a special line with a great quantity of works left over to posterity. Bamboo joint carving is the representative variety in bamboo carving in which bamboo joints are shaped into brush pots, incense tubes, tea caddies, etc. and then its surface pierced out to make relief sculpture to produce an artistic effect.
The techniques of bamboo carving mainly include keeping green-covering, pasting yellow chips, round carving and inlaying.
The craft of keeping green covering refers to that motifs are carved using bamboo surface layer hull with
other part on the surface removed. That part, appearing pale yellow, is called bamboo muscle, which is used as background. When a bamboo is dried, its outer layer gradually turns from green to light yellow, and then remains unchanged. But the bamboo muscle will change from light yellow first to deep yellow, then to reddish purple with color and luster growing deeper and deeper until they resemble amber’s. When the bamboo muscle is often stroked with hand, it will become smooth and mild. As time goes by, the outer layer and the bamboo muscle differ distinctly in luster and color, and the designs become more and more clear.
The yellow chip (bamboo muscle) refers to the light yellow inner layer of the bamboo. It is glossy and smooth, like ivory. In the craft of pasting yellow chips, large bamboos from the south are used as material. Fresh yellow chips are boiled, dried in the air, flattened by pressing, and then paste onto the surface of objects made of various materials. Often wooden articles are used, among which Chinese little leaf box which is fine in texture and similar to bamboo yellow chips in color and luster, is the best choice. Sometimes two or three layers of yellow chips are pasted as required by design so as to make several patterns closely linked up as if wrought through the invisible hand of nature. The technique of pasting yellow chips prevailed in the Qing Dynasty I many places across the country.