China

From the Land

Batik and Botanic Dyes, Guizhou Province

“When we fled to Heiyang (Guiyang) without any money or food on the road, I ate fish and field snail to survive, and I kept my batik as proof for my mother to find me.” —Miao song from Zhijin County describing historical migration

Members of Guizhou’s Miao and Dong communities have passed down their botanical knowledge through centuries of subsistence farming in the region.

At least three species of the flowering indigo plant cultivated in Guizhou provide a colorfast dye used for clothing and household textiles. To prepare the dye, harvested leaves are ground into a paste. Because indigo dye does not have to be kept hot, it is ideal for wax-resistant batik. In batik, patterns are applied to undyed cloth using liquid beeswax. When the cloth is submerged in dye, the waxed parts remain white while unwaxed parts absorb the color.

FESTIVAL PARTICIPANTS

A scholar from Kaili, Guizhou Province, Yang Wenbin 杨文斌 has been researching and promoting ethnic folk arts, including those of his own Miao community, since the 1960s. His field research has focused on clothing art and craft of ethnic minority groups in southwestern, central, and southern China. He also practices Miao traditional batik, botanic dyeing, and silver decoration. In the 1980s he helped to establish the Guizhou Qiandongnan Region Ethnic and Folk Craft Research Institute and served as its director. His current research focuses on the eco-social meaning and sustainability of botanic dyeing, and he authored the books Miao Traditional Batik and Guizhou Batik.

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Detail from hand-dyed batik flags used by the Miao people for calling the spirit of the ancestors, Kaili, Guizhou Province, 2014. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

From the Festival

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Liang Xiaoying is learning the batik process from Wang Yangbin, Leishan, Guizhou Province, 2014. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

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Yang Wenbin demonstrates the batik process, Leishan, Guizhou Province, 2014. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution