Wearing armor, riding a horse, holding a traditional weapon, fighting on the battlefield. Such a scene may have appeared in the dreams of many people when they were young. But there is a person who turned the traditional Chinese armor in the dream into reality, he is the first person to restore the ancient armor of the Tang and Song dynasties, Wen Chenhua (温陈华).
He has highly restoration the armor of the Song dynasty, which has been lost in China for 700 years, after 6 years. He founded the Lian Kai Tang (炼铠堂), and with his own strength, he promoted the obscure armor restoration craft, and let Chinese armor on the world-class combat stage.
#01 The first person in traditional Chinese armor restoration
There are only about 1000 armor restorers in China, 90% of them are Wen Chenhua's students, and for 40 years, he has been restoring Jiazhou (甲胄, traditional Chinese armor) to the extreme.
On Wen Chenhua's social platforms profile, there is only a simple sentence "Top Chinese Jiazhou maker" as an introduction. However, he has shared a lot of armor design drawings and finished armor photos, all revealing his deep love for Jiazhou.
Traditional armor restoration and casting is an obscure industry, and Wen Chenhua has a good reputation in this industry. He led a team of more than ten people, and has made considerable achievements in the process of inheriting Chinese armor culture and reshaping heroic military uniforms.
Wen Chenhua was born in 1974 and grew up in a factory in Neijiang, Sichuan Province, where reading palm-size picture books and listening to radio programs constituted the entire spiritual world of his childhood.
In those days, "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms", "Tales of Tang" and other Pingshu programs were the only pastime people had after daliy work. Wen Chenhua was naturally no exception, and the weapons and armor in the program were his favorite, and it was from then on, that Wen Chenhua's curiosity and fascination for ancient armor sprouted in his heart.
As his love for armor grew, Wen Chenhua began to draw armor, spears, bows and arrows on historical figures in textbooks. After school, he cut playing cards and cardboard to imitate armor pieces, then punched holes and threaded them to make them look like armor.
With the growth of age and research, Wen Chenhua found that to make a set of armor needs to cover to painting, carving, lacquer, forging, leather and other skills, and he could never complete a set of armor with paper, so the material also changed from paper to iron, leather. Of course, the cost naturally went up.
After graduating from high school, Wen Chenhua became a boiler installer, learning the craft skills of iron and sheet metal. In 1998, at the age of 24, Wen Chenhua went to Beijing Museum with a sacred dream of armor, hoping to see the most authentic and complete armor.
Since then, whenever he had time, Wen Chenhua went to the library to check the information and documents related to Chinese traditional armor. Through the information, Wen Chenhua learned that the sculptures and realistic paintings in the temples were probably the original face of the armor in ancient times.
This idea rekindled his confidence, and he began to visit temples around the country to see the sculptures: Shanhua Temple, Huayan Temple, Zhenguo Temple, Nantan Temple, and Dunhuang Mogao Caves. He recorded all the armors from different places in detail, laying a solid foundation for future armor restoration and production.
#02 Successful Restoration of Song Dynasty Armor
After several years of research and study, Wen Chenhua began to officially make the first set armor in 2008.
Making armor is not an easy task, it takes about dozens of processes. After a long period of research and accumulation, Wen Chenhua mastered the crafts of ironwork, gold carving, burin engraving, casting, clay sculpture, wood carving, cutting, leather making, and rope braiding.
One of the most difficult is the production of scale-shaped armor pieces, a set of armor requires more than 2,000 pieces, and need to be hammered into shape by hand in each piece. This is a huge craft project, involving a variety of copper, iron hammer disc, forging, cold forging, hot forging process, not only the production of complex, long working period, labor costs are also very high.
In addition to the armor pieces, the lining is also very important. Five layers of cowhide with glue lacquer with stitching, to play a protective role.
After six years and numerous failed attempts, he finally succeeded in restoring the 700-year-old lost Song Dynasty armor for the first time. Upon completion, it was bought by an armor enthusiast. "I didn't think it could be sold for money, it almost caught up with my yearly income". After that, he focused on armor restoration. He turned his hobby into a profession.
The armor of the actors in the historical dramas "The Longest Day In Chang'an" and "Serenade of Peaceful Joy" was also made by Wen Chenhua when he was invited to participate. The armors worn by the characters in the dramas are all real armors, not the plastic armor pieces commonly used in the past.
Someone once asked him, "Is it very hard to be an armor maker? Is it very hard to persist all these years?" And, Wen Chenhua said, "Actually, there is no hard work, because I like armor and I like this work. If you can make a hobby a career, what kind of luck is that? It's a kind of happiness."
Wen Chenhua is still personally involved in every detail, and after a part of the armor is made, Wen Chenhua often places it on himself to see if it fits. Although contemporary people hardly need to wear armor to fight in battle, but the practicality of the armor itself is still very important to Wen Chenhua.
Wen Chenhua often says that a perfect set of armor should not only stand up to the scrutiny of classical paintings and sculptures, but also be able to be used in the ancient battlefield environment. It must be safe, protective, stand up to swords, spears, axes, hooks and forks. As a modern armor maker, only to restore these details as much as possible is the proper respect for the traditional Chinese armor making skills.
The strict requirements for the practicality of the restored armor, finally, make the Chinese armor appear in the world of fighting competition stage.
International Medieval Combat Federation, global historical full contact sport fighting revival movement. For the 2019 IMCF in Ukraine, Wen Chenhua was invited to make a set of pure Chinese armor for the Chinese competitors participating in the tournament.
#03 The Future of Traditional Chinese Armor
With more opportunities for the armor to be displayed to the public, more and more young people have started to pay attention to the armor culture and even follow Wen Chenhua to make armor.
In 2018, Wen Chenhua set up his studio, Lian Kai Tang. At the same time, he teaches the craft of armor making to his apprentices without reservation. It is due to Wen Chenhua's love that ancient armor, the crystallization of ancient Chinese people's wisdom,can be revived in contemporary times.
In the future, he hopes to teach the traditional Chinese armor making skills to more people, so that it can be developed and not lost again, and passed on in various forms.
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