Tongjiang. Fish Skin tanning workshop with Mrs You Wen Fen Photographer Elisa Palomino


People have worn clothes made from fish skin leather for the past 1,000 years with earliest traces being found from the Hezhe ethnic group. Although the craft has almost disappeared, in 2006 the skill of processing fish skin was one of the first listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of China. The Hezhen people are one of the smallest ethnic minorities in China and have long inhabited the reaches of the Amur river in northeast China. Preserving fish skin traditional knowledge is essential to the Hezhen’s world which depends for its existence on fishing. 

Together with IAIA Beijing International Art Institute Association Ltd and Jiejinkou Hezhen Village ethnic museum, Heilongjiang province we created a Fish Skin Craft workshop delivered by experienced craftsmen from the Hezhe ethnic minority community who have pass down the endangered art to the next generation of Chinese students. This project encouraged Chinese fashion students to produce fish leather artefacts using traditional skills, examining the design practice within contexts of social innovation for sustainability.
The workshop included: Ethnographic fieldwork of historical fish leather artefacts at National museum and crafts communities, sketchbook development, tanning and sewing of fish skins and fish ski and fish bone painting techniques. The workshop seeks to draw attention to the vital importance of traditional Fish Leather craft to the Hezhen’s world - as a basis for their culture and a component of their identities and, encouraging their artisans on re-introducing such skills used by their ancestors making a tool for community development. 

Because fish leather craft is not an aspect of Hezhe culture that is commonly studied, this workshop attempts to fill a gap in the literature of the Hezhe minority group. This workshop will call for further research on the topic of Hezhe crafts, Hezhe ethic identities and their representation in Chinese society today.

Preservation of Hezhen Fishskin Tradition through Fashion Higher education