China

From the Land

Miao Embroidery, Guizhou Province

“The embroidered patterns are about the story of the ancestor of mankind. By embroidering his story on clothes and the cloth with which we carry our babies and singing songs about his story, we believe that he will protect us and our children.” —Pan Yuzhen, Miao embroiderer

The Miao are among the larger ethnic populations in China. They also live in neighboring countries as well as in the United States and Australia, where they are more generally known as the Hmong. In China, they are mostly concentrated in Guizhou Province in the southwest, where subgroups are identified by their dress and embroidery motifs, such as “Big Flower Miao” and “Small Flower Miao.” Working with silk and cotton thread, as well as horsehair, embroiderers adorn cuffs, sleeves, collars, and tunic fronts with designs of mythical animals (dragons and phoenixes) and ordinary insects, fish, and flowers. These designs are not only decorative; more importantly, many record daily life, life cycle events, and community legends and history.

FESTIVAL PARTICIPANTS

Pan Yuzhen 潘玉珍 is an embroiderer originally from Guizhou Province and currently based in Beijing. She began learning the embroidery traditions of her ethnic Miao community from her mother when she was seven years old. She has lived in Beijing since the 1970s, selling embroidery in Panjiayuan Market, the largest antique market in the city. In Miao communities, embroiderers record their history and culture in the embroidery on their clothing. It can take four to five years to make a fine handmade piece of embroidered clothing—from making the cloth, cultivating the silk worms, and dyeing the cloth and threads to the embroidery itself. She has participated in the Santa Fe Craft Market for eight years and has been featured in a book called An Shen Daji. At the Festival, she was joined by her daughter, Zhang Hongying 张红英.

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Pan Yuzhen and Zhang Hongying at their home in Beijing, 2014. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

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Detail from a Miao embroidered textile. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution