Lion Rock Lens
‘Uncle Cai’ May Be Last Birdcage maker in Hong Kong
Chen Lecai has been making and fixing bamboo cages in Prince Edward for 63 years
By Jiaxin Liu
Chen Lecai concentrates on repairing a bird cage in his store in the Prince Edward bird market on Nov. 6, 2019.
Despite the overwhelming influx of machine-made and cheap plastic cages, Chen Lecai, called Uncle Cai by friends, insists on painstakingly making traditional birdcages by hand, one thin wooden rib at a time.
Chen, 75, first learned to make birdcages when he was 12 years old before refining his skills with Zhuo Kangbai, a master of cage making. He then established his own small shop more than 60 years ago in the bird market in Prince Edward.
Although Chen started his business by making cages and is considered one of the last, if not the last, handmade birdcage maker in Hong Kong, he said he now only does repairs.
“Cage making depends on the weather. if the weather is terrible, it will affect the state of the bamboo,” Chen said.
The cage-making process is complicated, and requires time and skill, he said. If it is made by a great master, Chen said, the price can be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars.
Bird cage craftsmanship is included in Hong Kong’s collection of intangible cultural heritage. When it comes to inheriting his craft, Chen lamented that he currently had no apprentices. “It needs talent and great patience,” he said.
Chen Lecai repairs the rib of a birdcage in his store on Nov. 6, 2019. Bamboo is affected by weather, Chen says.
A bird-raising enthusiast brings his birdcage to Chen Lecai for repair on Nov. 6, 2019.
Chen Lecai paints a strip of bamboo to be used in a birdcage.
Chen Lecai rummages through his shop looking for the Intangible Cultural Heritage certificate he received for his handmade birdcages.
Chen Lecai sits in front of his shop in the bird market in Prince Edward. The red sign reads: “Mr. Cai, spray painting and repairing birdcages.”
Chen Lecai holds two old photos showing the master he studied under (left) and himself with his master (right).Chen started learning birdcage making when he was 12.