Chinese Folk Art by Yang Xianrang and Yang Yang
Women who use colors and symbolism to express sentiments such as love, hope, protection of children, and happiness traditionally create Chinese folk embroidery. Among the Miao, who use embroidery to record their cultural history, the threads of embroidery connect generation after generation. In adolescence Miao women engage in “mixiu” or “secret embroidery” that is created alone in a girl’s spare time and carefully stashed away until marriage. This secret collection of children’s clothes, shoes, and quilts is presented for public admiration at a banquet prepared by the husband’s family after marriage.
Miao history holds that their people came to the South long ago under the leadership of Chi You, and this arduous struggle figures prominently into Miao embroidery motifs. Frequently worn on garments, Miao embroidery often incorporates native places and flora and fauna, and national heroes.
Miao embroidery patterns may take their cues from traditional paper cuts. Though patterns and styles vary among this diverse people, images often evoke the ancient world of the Great Mother ancestor god, the worship of nature, and the legendary journey south of tribal leader Chi You. The ox-horned dragon, the god of thunder, dragons, tigers, and unicorns are just a few of the symbols figuring into Miao designs. Miao embroidery generally features red or blue and purple patterns against black backgrounds.
The position of embroidered clothing on the body is just as important as the colors and figures within the patterns. In Southeastern Guizhou Province, Miao women pair a crown featuring the sun and ox totem with a skirt pleated to symbolize the sun’s rays.