Costumes of Miao People
If you are fortunate enough to visit a Miao village during festivals or when the ethnic group holds marriage ceremonies, you will be dazzled by the varied and colorful costumes and silver ornaments of Miao women.
Miao festival clothes are appealing not only because of their unique styles and craftsmanship, but also because they reveal the rich Miao culture and its long history.
People of Miao ethnic group dressed in their tradional costume during the Lantern Festival. The Miao people have a history that spans thousands of years, but they didn't have a written language until the 1950s. However, this ethnic group's long, storied past has been recorded in their clothing. The intricate embroidery and silver ornaments tell the colorful history of the Miao people
Traditional costumes of different branches of the Miao ethnic group vary, though the craftsmanship needed to make the costumes always reaches the peak of perfection. Usually, making a set of traditional Miao clothes takes a Miao woman 1-2 years.
More than 50 percent of Miao people live in Guizhou Province. In the Miao community, which has mostly been closed to the outside world, their religious beliefs are often thought of as primitive. The motivation behind Miao women’s hard work needed to make their clothes is their devotion to their ancestors. It has long been a tradition for Miao women to use embroidery and sewing to show how much they worship their ancestors.
Mountains and rivers make Miao areas difficult to access, which has lessened the impact of modern civilization and helped them to maintain old traditions. Some old costumes from Chinese history that were recorded in ancient books from the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220)have long since disappeared in many parts of the country. However, one can still find such costumes in the Miao community. Some foreigners who have visited the Miao have called them “living terra cotta warriors.”
Without written script, Miao people have used their costumes to record their history. Different patterns and designs on the clothes retain rich meaning and refer to legendary stories about such things as their origins, wars and religious beliefs.
There is remarkable difference in clothing and personal adornment between different tribes. For the Miao people in the western part of Hunan Province, women wear costumes popular with the Han (the majority of the Chinese people) and the Manchu in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Miao women in Rongjiang and Congjiang counties in Guizhou Province and Rongshui County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region wear almost the same areas. They wear the Chinese style jacket with high collar and buttons down the front with a diamond embroidered decorative panel, forming a unique style.
There are 23 varieties of costume, falling into five types more prevalent in western Hunan Province, southeastern Guizhou, in the region where Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces meet, and the Hainan Province. Among the five types, the popular styles in western Hunan Province, and eastern and southeastern Guizhou Province are typical and more distinguishable.
Miao in the western part of Hunan Province have kept close ties with the Han Chinese since ancient times. They wear a similar style of clothing to the Han. Men wear a short Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front and leg wrappings, and wrap their head in a turban.Women used to wear red skirts, but now prefer pants with an embroidered apron over the top and a vest over a jacket. They usually trim the cuffs of the sleeves, edges of pants, and jacket hems, with lace for decoration. They like to put a kerchief and silver decoration on their head.
Women of the Miao ethnic group dressed in the traditional costume to celebrate the March 3rd Ethnic Culture Festival, which falls on the 3rd day of March on Chinese lunar calendar. The intricate embroidery and silver ornaments tell the colorful history of the Miao people
Miao women in eastern Guizhou Province have more choice in their dress. Some like to wear a Chinese-style jacket with buttons on the right, or a long gown, and some like a half-length jacket with loose sleeves. Most wear either a pleated skirt or pants. Men wear a short Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front or a long jacket with buttons on the right side of the front. All of them wear wristbands and wrap a band around their head.
The Miao women are particularly good at weaving, embroidery and cross-stitch work. Thus, they weave cotton cloth themselves and dye it either blue or the deep brown colors they like best. They specially love bright colors of the embroidery or cross-stitch work with geometric patterns of flowers and pet animals. However, the Miao in the southern part of Guizhou tend to favor blue and green colors.
Women in this area have long hair gathered in a knot on the top of the head, which they tie with a cotton kerchief. They also wear an ox-horn for decoration. Some also have their hair in a bun tied with a scarf, and then pin a silver adornment on the bun.
Miao women like more colorful and decorative costumes in the central and southern parts of Guizhou Province, including Zhenning, Pingkan, Anshun, Ziyun counties and cities in suburban Guiyang city. They wear a long pleated skirt and V-style jacket with buttons down the front, and with ribbons and other adornments. Women like to wrap their head with a piece of cloth or a kerchief, or wear a hat in addition to a silver necklace, silver pins, and ear rings. Men in these areas wear a long gown with buttons on the right of the front, a wristband and long pants. During holidays, they put on a colorful jacket and an apron, which are usually worn by women.
Young girls of the Miao ethnic group dressed in the traditional costume to celebrate the March 3rd Ethnic Culture Festival, which falls on the 3rd day of March on Chinese lunar calendar. The intricate embroidery and silver ornaments tell the colorful history of the Miao people
Because hand-made Miao costumes are sewn individually by Miao women in their homes, there are hardly two costumes with the same style or pattern.
The Miao hundred bird coat, originally worn on major occasions to worship ancestors, is now festival attire. The coat is big and loose with no collar. Hundreds of birds and dragons are embroidered on the front and back. It is made of 7-10 strips of bands with embroidered patterns of frogs, dragons, birds, butterflies and insects, symbols of the Miao’s mystic culture.
Silver ornaments make up an important part of Miao dress. Silver is believed by Miao people to be the symbol of light which can dispel evil spirits. When bathing a new born baby, parents often put a piece of silver into the water to act as a blessing for the baby’s future. Miao families also dress up their daughters with silver ornaments. During some occasions, silver worn by young women in their best clothes weighs more than 10 kg.
Miao girls begin to learn weaving, embroidery and cross stitching from the early age of 6 or 7. A girl often pours great energy into making an embroidered dress. When she finishes the dress for herself, she shows she is ready to marry. The dress reveals the girl’s talent and ingenuity.
In some Miao areas a tradition of “secret embroidery” has been handed down to current generations. When girls reach the age of 15 they begin to make their “secret embroidery” behind closed doors. These secret works include small caps, shoes and "infant packs," which are prepared for the future when a woman gets married and has babies. This embroidery will be exhibited to the public at the girl’s wedding ceremony. Usually there are around 100 items to display.
Embroidery methods are varied and include “zhouxiu,” “sanxiu” and “duihua”. "Zhouxiu" is embroidery which is done by plaiting silk thread into braids, folding it on cloth and then fixing it with thread. The patterns of this embroidery create a striking decorative effect. Traditional Miao costumes for holidays are made using three methods which are called “bright clothes.” This involves a large amount of silver ornaments being fixed to clothing.
Miao women are also proficient in batik. The batik dyeing is meticulous and a long-standing tradition among the Miao. Their colored batiks are renowned at home and abroad.
Even with the technology of the 21st century available, the women prefer to make their finest clothes by hand. Because of the complicated process, this usually takes three to five years. Most high quality costumes are integrated with fine silver to make them even more bright and attractive. Because of the time and money going into them, a set of this handmade clothing is an artistic treasure costing from 1,000 to 10,000 yuan.
The minority group's silver jewelry is made using traditional techniques passed down from generation to generation. The patterns, styles, and figures are quite different from place to place. Men's silver decorations include such designs as: head flowers, neck-rings, bracelets, necklaces, and cigarette cases, etc. The women's are more delicate and include: crowns, flowers, hair clasps, combs, hair-pins, earrings, ear pendants, chains, locks, shawls, bracelets, bells, etc. One set of silver jewelry may weigh more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds). The Miaos are really literally a dazzling people!