In a two-story house inside rows of neatly arranged apartment buildings in the northern foothills of the Qinling Mountains, Chen Chunmiao often offers guidance to local residents learning the craft of straw weaving.
The 52-year-old has been running the straw-weaving cooperative for four years in a newly constructed community in Qiaonan, Shaanxi province. The township is about a one-hour drive from downtown Xi'an.
Most of her students never had a job before, Chen said, adding that she thought it was important to provide new opportunities for women in this mountainous region.
"Straw weaving skills not only boost confidence but also provide a stable income, since most of them previously only took care of children at home," Chen said.
Originating in the Southern Tang Dynasty (937-975), straw weaving in Shaanxi features products ranging from daily necessities to exquisite works of what can only be described as art.
"Materials for weaving come from villagers' daily lives — for example, straw and corn husks," Chen said.
"The skills also help nearby impoverished households rise out of poverty. It brings annual revenue of a million yuan($149,300) to the local township government."
She added that each finished work sells for 50 to 100 yuan in the market.
For each finished straw product, a skilled weaver can earn 3 to 15 yuan. Sun E'hua, 59, one of the members of Chen's weaving cooperative, earns more than 1,000 yuan every month.
Sun, who is part of a family of six, with two children and two grandchildren in Qiaonan, said she liked to work with others in the cooperative. If not for the work, they would all sit idle at home most of the time, she said.
"I earn my own income and have become even happier because I've also made friends through straw weaving," she said.
The weaving cooperative operated by Chen also conducted training in cooperation with the local government. It focused on impoverished households in Shaanxi and nearby regions.
"In the future, I hope the traditional skill of straw weaving will be familiar to more people in our country and help more women from rural areas develop their own specialties," Chen said.