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  • Writer's pictureChristina

Hui Ka Hung paper craftsman

I’d like to share with you an inspiring story of three generations.

I was scheduled to meet with a paper craftsman called Hui Ka Hung on a Friday morning at Shaukiwan, my first ever visit to the area. His shop is situated on the first floor of an old mall, and all along the stairs lie life-size paper dolls. For any Chinese person, they might find it uncomfortable to look at, since paper craft products are meant for the afterlife, but for me the excitement just grew. An old craftsman was alone in the shop, just about to start making something with chopped bamboo sticks. I took a look at the frame and guessed it was a mahjong table. He said with surprise, “You’re smart!” and with that it opened up our conversation. The old craftsman is actually Ka Hung’s dad, Papa Hui. I took my Kung Fu master with me during this visit. The two hit it off. Ka Hung’s grandad and dad are from a family of Kung Fu Masters. They had a martial art club back in China teaching a Southern style of Kung Fu and Lion dance. Papa Hui has three sons, and when they were little, they used to get very excited every time they heard the hitting of drums and banging of gongs, as they knew the paper lion is about to perform a dance. Ka Hung is the one who took a liking to the making of the paper lions. At the age of 6, he dismantled his own bed to create room to put a paper lion there and practise his skills in that limited space. When he was 12/13, in his 2nd year at secondary school, he came home and told his parents that he had sold all his books and his school bag to pursue his dreams. The British branded bag was worth a lot of money at the time, said Hui Papa, but I guess it showed that Ka Hung was determined, so he let him carry on. It took him 6 years, worked hard experimenting with different techniques and finally produced his first full-scale paper lion. He plucked up the courage to approach the largest Chinese arts and crafts stall in HK and asked if they would buy his lion. The owner told him, “We have a lot of paper lions, we don’t need yours.” It was a time when cheap paper crafts products flooded HK at a third of the price of those produced in HK. So why would anyone spent HK$15,000 on buying his lion even though the craftsmanship stood out. Determined and convinced he can make a real difference, he persevered with different paper crafts shops until he got his first break. An owner told him, “Stop messing around with the lions, why don’t you come and learn the trade at my shop specialising in producing paper goods for funerals?” Ka Hung told us he acquired his skills through watching and learning from the three old craftsmen in the shop. He was lucky to have the opportunity.

At the age of 18, Ka Kung became a dad, having married at a young age. This gave him an extra push to work hard to support his family. Papa Hui always teaches him, “Don’t do anything bad, work hard, try your best, have no regrets.” In 1994, when Ka Hung opened his own store, Papa Hui saw that his son was serious about his trade, so he in turn gave up his own Chinese Chiropractor business to learn the craft from his son so that he can help out. It’s been more than 10 years since he started.

Ka Hung has a deep appreciation of the direction he would like to take this “intangible cultural heritage” to, and not have it limited to Lion dances and crafts for past lives. Paper crafts is an art form that requires a modern twist. He has worked with artist to create art pieces, one of whom asked him to make the first ever Graffiti paper lion. Through the years Ka Hung has participated in numerous art exhibitions. His latest project was a commission from the Town of Bendigo in Australia to recreate a golden dragon, 160 metres in length! Why would a town in Australia commission him to produce such a thing? The story goes that more than 50 years ago, a group of Chinese descendents from the 1850s gold rush in the town of Bendigo had asked a renowned paper craft shop in HK, Law On Kee, to create a dragon for them, and ever since it’s been housed in the Golden Dragon Museum there as quite a tourist attraction. The golden dragon will come out once a year to perform the dance but it’s time for it to retire. After a lengthy search all over the world for the perfect craftsman who can take on the massive task of reproducing the world’s longest paper dragon, Ka Hung landed the job. It’s a exciting time, he feels honoured to be asked.

Coming to the end of our chat, i noticed two distinct items with over 100 years of history in his shop, one a wood plaque with the wordings of “ HK Oil candle paper craft union” and a glass frame of Hua Guang Master, a God worshipped for paper craft. The union was set up more than 100 years ago. When Ka Hung joined the group, there were many members, and the membership fee was just HK$2. Later when people drifted away and it officially shut down, no one wanted to claim the items so he took them home himself. Perhaps because of what it stood for, Ka Hung continues to work hard in preserving what it symbolises.

Ka Hung told us, “If it’s not for the support of my father, through thick and thin, i am not sure i would have made it this far. I am so thankful to my old man.” A very special family, i wish them all the best in elevating this special art.

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