Wang Tongguo is only in his mid-30s but he has already dedicated 20 years to perfecting a Beijing tradition - the craft of sugar-blowing. In his hands, caramel is coaxed into a carnival of animals to be eaten or admired. Mr Wang talks to Vivian Wu about being one of the last exponents of a fading craft. What is unique about the craft of sugar-blowing? The art is very difficult to master. Craftsmen pass the skills on from one generation to the next. It usually takes 10 years to learn and I've spent 20 years refining my skills. The sugar is heated to between 60 and 70 degrees Celsius and you have to use subtle hand techniques to be able to mould it into various shapes within a minute and a half. You have to be careful not to burn your hands. You also have to be familiar with Chinese folk painting so you can picture what you want to blow. How did you learn the skills? I learned them from my father, who was an apprentice to a Beijing folk craftsman in my home town of Dezhou in Shandong province . I have loved it since I was very young but officially started to learn it when I was 16. I spent 10 years becoming proficient. My family has many secret recipes for making the sugar syrup, as well as knowledge of the moulding techniques. How many sugar blowers are there in Beijing? What are the prospects for the craft? There are only four or five sugar blowers still in Beijing and none of them has an apprentice. Few people want to learn folk crafts. Some young guys want to learn as a way to make money but you will never grasp the essence of it if that is the case. You have to be enthusiastic and talented. You also have to be patient to endure the long years of practice. I had an apprentice in 1996, a 23-year-old from Shandong. He was diligent; he kept practising, getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night. But after two years he could only blow a ball. He gave up and was extremely disappointed. I believe all folk crafts will vanish sooner or later. You cannot stop the tide of time. When things progress so fast, people become too impatient to admire folk crafts, not to mention the 10 years it takes to learn it. It is so sad to see such a unique craft vanishing, but that's life. My 15-year-old son has shown no interest but I don't encourage him ... I want him to go to college. Is the craft profitable? I have tried to live off the craft for the past 20 years but it's not easy. Sometimes I sell my works at shopping centres and hotels for five to 10 yuan each. Sometimes I am invited to restaurants and shows. At other times I go back to Shandong to farm. Now I am paid 2,000 yuan per month to demonstrate my skills at a restaurant ... I work 21/2 hours at lunch time and the same amount at dinner. I usually make at least 40 items each shift. Do you have any future plans? I have been thinking of elevating it into a real art by improving the materials. If not exposed to moisture or knocked, the works can last for years, but they are really vulnerable to damage. I am 80 per cent confident that I can replace the sugar with other materials, but I can't say any more. This way I hope sugar-blowing can become an eternal art and more people can enjoy it.