Chinese traditional embroidery and ethnic minority traditional handcrafts have always been a big part of the Chinese cultural heritage. These crafts of ethnic minorities in China has been developed for thousands of years and has different artistic expressions. In many ethnic minorities, some women would make these traditional embroideries and create traditional pieces of clothing and shoes. It was a common situation for every woman in ethnic minorities to pass on their crafting skills to their daughters. But nowadays, young people are no longer interested in learning embroidery as they move to bigger cities to work and learn and do not wear their traditional costumes.
The ethnic minority of Bouyei is situated in the BanWan village of GuiZhou. There, they live along with others of their ethnic minorities. In this village, there are also some people who work as embroiderers and they would sell their handcrafts and pieces of clothing to others as a source of financial income. What would normally happen is that these embroiderers would make traditional Bouyei ethnic minority clothing, shoes, and head cloth then others in the village or tourists could buy it from their shops, or they would also takes these clothing and handcrafts to the local market which happens for a few times each week. There, people from all different villages can purchase these pieces of traditional clothing that are handmade by themselves.
Traditional embroidery of Bouyei ethnic group
An occasion in which people would buy a lot of these traditional shoes is when there is a wedding in which it is a tradition of the Bouyei ethnic minority for the woman side to gift pairs of shoes to family members on the man’s side. On these occasions, people would come and order dozens of pairs of shoes from embroiderers. Also, some of embroiderers have accounts on social media platforms such as Kuaishou or Tiktok, there they would post videos of their crafts and processes of making them where others from all over China can see. From the social media platforms, there would then be people who are from big cities that would buy some of these traditional pieces.
Shoes handmade by embroiderers
Maolan, is an embroiderer in the village and mostly makes traditional clothing as her job. A Shanghai person had acknowledged her through her social media account in which this person then added her WeChat Li and communicated with her to buy around 30 sets of the clothing that she made for a children performance as costumes. This shows how social media platforms are really an effective way to allow for more people to know about these traditional clothing and shoes. For prices, a set of traditional Bouyei ethnic minority clothing would typically cost around 100+ RMB, if it is sewn by a machine, which is the vast majority. Usually, these embroiderers can earn about 3000+ RMB per month, which in comparison is actually a pretty high earning.
However, a big problem of which they face is the continuance of inheritance. Currently, in the BanWan village, most people who still continue to make traditional handcrafts and clothing are almost all women in their middle-ages or older. Most younger generations of the family aren’t interested in this activity and they yearn to go to the cities instead. From the interview with Luo Lanyingzi, she claimed that her hobbies were dancing, and she wanted to become a doctor in the future. Even though her mother’s sister makes these sorts of traditional clothing, she isn’t interested in any of it and nor is her mother’s sister’s child interested in any of it. She also stated that she didn’t really even wear much of that traditional clothing anymore, but she used to when she was little. It is shown that the aspects of traditions are gradually starting to diminish throughout the family tree as more and more people want to go to study and work in big cities.
Mrs. He, an embroiderer, mentioned that on the question of heritage, “it really depends on the children themselves, whether or not they are interested in such a thing". From what we see and learn from the interviews, the majority of these children desire to either work or study outside of the village, and they don’t seem to be quite interested in learning how to make any of these handcrafts. A big reason for this is that they don’t have the thinking of the problem of heritage and most parents don’t really teach their children on this. In addition, in school, there also aren’t any classes in which they teach about any of this traditional cultural knowledge.
In the house of Li Maolan, the situation there shows that the mother doesn't want her daughter to inherit her craft skills at all. Li Maolan‘s daughter has just graduated from university in the major of psychology. She explained that her daughter used to do some embroidery at the house when she was free, however, she "doesn’t want her daughter to continue her job on making traditional clothing for it is too hardworking". This is because she feels that working in the city is a much better option for her daughter instead, as she would be able to earn more and not need to work that hard physically, and that making traditional clothing is very tedious and harmful to the eyes. In addition, on the question of whether or not she would worry that this skill of making traditional clothing is going to disappear, she believes that it won’t even if she doesn’t pass it on as there are others that are not from the village to make this as well. If this situation continues in the village, it is likely that the art of making these traditional pieces of clothing and shoes will be buried with the bodies of these old women who make these handcrafts.
There are many ways of which we can approach this problem. The main direct result of which is needed to be achieved is to allow for more people to acknowledge and learn about this traditional culture which then results in the continued inheritance of this endangered culture. In other words, directly, what these solutions would achieve is to let more people from other places and big cities recognize such traditional embroidery, then from those groups of people, those who are interested in this subject can then learn and as a result inherit this culture.
Firstly, a way of which to get to this result is to create camps on training skills of the traditional embroidery, and people who are interested in these subjects can then sign up. This would be something that is similar to the embroidery program called” JinXiu Plan” in Guizhou. In this project created by the local government, it invites all Bouyei ethnic minority people, although mostly women, to join in the camps in the project in which they provide lessons on the skills of embroidery, weaving, sewing, tie-dying, etc to all levels of people, whether beginner or more advanced. In these programs, the inheritor of the special skill would be teaching their craftsmanship to the people who sign up to join the camp. There is about 50 people per class, and depending on the subject, the number of classes then vary as well.
Secondly, we can let the public know about these traditional embroideries through broadcasting on social networking platforms. In societies nowadays, almost everyone uses these social network platforms such as Tiktok or kuaishou. From all the citizens in China or even out of China, people who are interested in traditional embroidery could perhaps come to the village to learn about the handcraft and hence share the stories to more people. In the Tujia ethnic minority in China, people have used NVIVO Explory Query, in which they have learned and viewed examples of Tujia ethnic intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Nine out of ten interviewees of the research are able to offer examples of Tujia ethnic ICH of which they have seen from this platform.
Last but not least, the method is to create exhibitions on these special traditional handcrafts. Near the Shiqiao village, there is an exhibition center that has been built to display local cultural heritage, such as Miao embroidery, silver ornaments and batik making. The exhibition displays the Miao ethnic minority’s history and culture in the embroidery on their clothing, and also through other handcrafts that they create. In the exhibition center, similar to the camps mentioned above, there are inheritors in the museum who demonstrate embroidering and other traditional skills at the exhibition center so that visitors can observe and appreciate this amazing skill.
An embroidery workshop at BanWan Village
In the village of Banwan, they have tried the above methods already, though it is still in the embryonic stage of development. They organized the camp as mentioned above, some embroiderers use social media platforms to popularize their craft works, however all of these still require a lot more development in order for it to achieve actual eminent results. Therefore, in conclusion, what is critical on aiding the development of the traditional handcrafts of ethnic minorities is to continue their inheritance through allowing more people to know about this traditional cultural heritage, then achieving the result of preventing this skill from disappearing.