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Miao embroiderer takes ethnic intangible heritage to world stage

Xinhua, July 25, 2023 Adjust font size:

Pan Yuzhen, 77, was embroidering flying butterflies and peonies while leaning against a window.

Hailing from Taijiang County of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Guizhou Province, Pan is an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of Miao embroidery of the Miao ethnic group.

Dressed in Miao ethnic costumes featuring unique embroidery patterns, Pan has been a frequent guest on the international fashion stage. These experiences have made her well-known.

"The girls in my hometown can embroider with needles from a very young age. Since I was five years old, I learned embroidery from my mother and sister. Miao embroidery techniques are complicated, but I have basically mastered all embroidery methods," Pan said, adding that she used to embroider for herself, but after she got married, she also made embroidered clothes for her family.

Pan's daughter Zhang Yanmei, who was born in 1977, suffered from poliomyelitis at the age of three. "I remember when I was a child, my mother took me by boat to seek medical treatment along the Qingshui River, and we had also been to Beijing to see a doctor. Although doctors said it could not be cured, my mother never gave up," Zhang said.

After corrective surgery, Zhang was finally able to walk with crutches, but due to the family's heavy financial burden, Pan began to sell Miao embroidery products across the country and traveled to a number of cities including Guiyang, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and other places by train.

Zhang remembered that her mother was always back home in a hurry, bringing a lot of candies and new clothes to her, but she never complained about her hardship.

In 1999, Zhang went to Beijing to join her mother after graduation from high school, to do business while learning embroidery. At that time, Pan had a stall in Panjiayuan Antique Market, covering about 6 or 7 square meters, where she met many foreign friends. "They advised me to go abroad and sell cultural and creative products. Over the 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, I went to the United States to do business related to Miao embroidery," Pan said.

Xia Hua, chairwoman of Eve Group, a garment brand in China, has been deeply engaged in the intangible heritage embroidery industry for more than 30 years, and has been looking for embroiderers in the mountainous area of Guizhou for years.

In 2016, Pan became a contracted embroiderer of Xia's handicraft workshop. Xia then took Pan and other embroiderers from Guizhou to the United Kingdom to participate in various fashion show activities. Foreigners who were interested in Miao embroidery flocked to take photos with the Chinese embroiderers.

With the help of Xia and her team, Pan's embroidery works have been integrated into international fashion designs, becoming both haute couture fashions for supermodels and exquisite handicrafts with ethnic characteristics.

"Foreigners are fond of our embroidery, especially at Christmas. They even queue up just to buy an embroidery decorated notebook or embroidery pendant for their families. I never thought that the craftsmanship handed down by my ancestors would sell so well abroad," Pan said.

"Miao embroidery is not only the pride of our Miao people, but also the pride of our Chinese people," Pan said, "Now, not only me, but every family in Taijiang County is engaged in the Miao costume business. I am 77 years old now, and I want to pass my embroidery skills down to the younger generation, hoping that they can continue to inherit our Miao ancestors' unique skills."

Zhang has taken over her mother's business and helps her run a Miao embroidery clothing processing plant. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Taijiang County association for the physically disabled, helping 10 disabled households to grow indigo plants which are used for dyeing cloth, and leading six disabled embroiderers in completing Miao embroidery orders.

Today, the Miao embroidery industry has become a major distinctive industry in Taijiang County. Zhang is not only a role model for local disabled people, but also gives them hopes. 

Pan Yuzhen, an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of Miao embroidery of the Miao ethnic group, embroiders in Taijiang County of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Guizhou Province, May 30, 2023. (Xinhua/Yang Wenbin)

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