You see color from afar, pattern nearby.   - Nuosu proverb 
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Red, yellow, and black painted wood dishes are a prime ethnic marker for the Nuosu, and traditional meals are eaten out of the serving dishes, using the itchyr (spoons) for soup or rice, and hands. Dishes from villages normally do not travel very far; factory made dishes are sold in stores all over Liangshan.

According to Jjivo Mnyu, the Jivo clan of Apu Village, Xide County, where we purchased many of our pieces, has been making painted wooden utensils for over 10 generations, and today's dishes are the finest ever produced. The Jivo taught members of the Apu clan how to make the dishes when the Apu moved to Laku Hamlet about 30 years ago.

Only men work the lathes. Typically, boys learn the art of turning when they are in their mid-teens. The turned dish belongs to the carver, the two guys who work the foot pedals do not get any share, but people trade around.

Both men and women can and do paint the designs. Painted designs are individual, and recognizable.

The wood for larger dishes (ceti, shepi, kuzzur) is 'ngehni,' a kind of wild cherry and is purchased in the market. The wood for the spoons (itchyr) is 'shoma,' or rhododendron, and is cut in the neighboring hills. Black pigment is made from locally available minerals; red is ordered by mail from Guangdong; yellow is by mail from Yunnan.

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Factories have greatly expanded the range of dishes made; now one can get everything from table-tops to long-stemmed beer glasses. These factory-made implements, which also have a glossy coat missing from the Apu utensils, are sold in stores all over Liangshan and occasionally in arts and crafts stores in the major cities of China. They are all machine-turned out of rhododendron wood and hand painted.

They represent a modern adaptation of traditional Nuosu colors and paint patterns (brighter colors and an added top glaze). The styles, with the exception of the soup tureens (kuzzur), meat serving dish (shepi) and rice serving dish (ceti) are all newly invented, and the names reflect the names given to them in the factory catalogue.

*Click to see a slide-show and description of the process of producing lacquerware in Apu village.

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