Rare textile art exhibition opens exotic window on Miao culture, history

An extraordinary exhibition showcasing the traditional costumes of the Miao people recently opened at the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou

An extraordinary exhibition showcasing traditional costumes worn by Miao people recently opened at the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou.

The exhibit presents 185 pieces and outfits from the Guizhou Provincial Museum, including Miao ethnic costumes, embroidery and batik fabrics with their silver accessories. 

The Miao people are one of several ethnic minority groups living in Southwest China, with the largest of the population settling in Guizhou Province.

If there is one easy way to differentiate the Miao people from other minorities in China, it is their heavy use of silver worn by women, from headdresses, necklaces, bracelets, earrings to waistbands and inlaid pieces on costume adornments.

“The silver ornaments are usually prepared from a girl’s early age so that on the day she gets married she can wear them all,” said silversmith Yang Changjie, who is also an inheritor of the Miao silver making craftsmanship.

Apart from obvious aesthetic reasons, Miao women like to wear their jewellery to show off the family’s wealth. An intricate silver pendant can weigh up to as much as 2 kilograms and takes four to five months to finish.

Lou Hangyan

A woman’s festive costume from Leishan County with a horn-shaped headdress

There are three sets of Miao woman’s festive costumes at the entrance of the exhibition hall, representing styles from the different clans in Leishan, Huangping and Taijiang counties.

The horn-shaped headdress from Xijiang Miao Village, in Leishan County, is eye-catching. The silver horn is around 80 centimeters tall and is directly attached to the silver coronet.

Yang Jingning, a staffer from Guizhou Provincial Museum, told Shanghai Daily that this is a reference to Chiyou, an ancestor of Miao people, who was believed to be born with horns and is worshipped for his strength, braveness and wisdom.

One of the stand-out features at the exhibition is the long-horn Miao giant headdress. It is a giant wig that is made by wrapping wool, linen and the hair of the woman’s ancestors around a pair of animal horns or a wooden clip, and securing it in place with a white ribbon. 

Guizhou Provincial Museum

An embroidery piece depicting the folk tale of how Miao people stole grain seeds from the Heaven

The materials and the hair are passed down from generation to generation. A girl’s costume from Zhijin County at the exhibition reveals what it is like.

The Miao ethnic minority does not have a traditional Western way of recording history and is highly dependent on oral narrations, such as ancient songs and rhythms. 

They also weave their tribal history on to their clothes.

An outfit from the exhibition reveals how the Miao people migrated from the Yellow River areas to the south when their leader Chiyou was defeated in a war more than 4,000 years ago.

“The embroidered triangles represent the mountains, while the three red lines on the skirt stand for the Yellow River, the Yangtze River and the flatlands they have crossed during migration,” added Yang.

The museum has also invited artisans of Miao embroidery, wax-resistant dyeing and silver making to showcase their skills to visitors at the opening, which will be staged again on April 15. 

There are also several other interactive programs, including Miao music performance and embroidery courses, which can be reserved via its official website (www.chinasilkmuseum.com).

Date: Through May 20

Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd

Admission: Free

Guizhou Provincial Museum

A batik fabric using wax-resistant dyeing

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