Hand Embroidery – China’s Intangible Cultural Heritage
As a traditional handicraft technique in China, embroidery has a history of thousands of years. Together with silk, it was an important pillar of the feudal economy during the Han Dynasty and one of the main commodities exported through the ancient Silk Road. Embroidery has made significant contributions to textile technology and the enrichment of the world’s material civilization. Hand embroidery not only embodies the long history and exquisite skills of Chinese embroidery, but also showcases the unique charm and spiritual connotation of Chinese traditional culture. It holds high historical, cultural, artistic and collection value. Protecting and inheriting these intangible cultural heritages is of great significance in maintaining cultural diversity and promoting cultural innovation and development.
In 2008, embroidery was included in the second batch of National Intangible Cultural Heritage list in China.
Ping An Group– An Introduction to the ‘Mama’s Needlework Public Welfare Project’
Every stitch helps women start their own businesses, increase their income, and practice sustainable development.
The women’s handicraft entrepreneurship public welfare project, “Mama’s Needlework”, was jointly founded and planned by Ping An Group, Arts and Design Magazine (a subsidiary of Economic Daily Newspaper Group), and the China Social Assistance Foundation. It was launched in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, in August 2020. The project integrates the traditional intangible cultural heritage design elements of the Yi nationality into secondary art processing and design. It organizes local Yi women to hand-make various exquisite handicrafts for external sales, thereby helping and enabling Yi women facing economic challenges to find employment and start businesses locally. In 2022, three intangible cultural heritage embroidery works, namely “The Secret of the Sun”, “The First Blessing of the World”, and “Kirgiz”, supported by the “Mama’s Needlework” project were successfully piloted.The project has trained more than 100 low-income women in folk workshops across several regions, including Yunan, Guizhou, Xinjiang, and Hunan.
In 2021, this sustainable public welfare project expanded into Southeast Asian countries and regions, helping Cambodia promote local women’s employment, and serving as a model for the international sharing of China’s poverty alleviation experience.
As a traditional folk art in Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County, Guangdong Province, the back embroidery is one of the unique embroidery techniques of the Yao nationality in China. Using dark cotton cloth as the base, and five-color (red, yellow, blue, white and green) silk threads to exhibit patterns, Yao embroidery in Ruyuan has its own unique skills. In the embroidery process, there is no need to create a draft. Embroiderers simply embroider various graphics within these squares. What is particularly amazing is that there is no need to look at the front side. Embroiderers work on the back side, that is, the reverse side of the needlework, and as a result geometric patterns such as triangles, serrations, and battlements are formed on the front side. Their combination forms a variety of patterns, which then become complete decorative patterns on various items after future combinations.
In 2011, Yao embroidery was included in the third batch of National Intangible Cultural Heritage list. In 2018, Yao embroidery was selected for inclusion in the first batch of the National Traditional Craft Revitalization Catalog.
Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County, Guangdong Province
Located at the southern foot of Qitian Ridge in the Nanling Mountains, Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County is known as “a pearl of Yao Mountains in northern Guangdong” due to its beautiful scenery, rich resources, and convenient transportation. Ruyuan was established as a county in the third year of Qiandao (1167 AD) during the Southern Song Dynasty, and it has a long history spanning over a thousand years. In 1963, with the approval of the State Council, Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County was established, becoming one of the three ethnic minority autonomous counties in Guangdong Province. Ruyuan is the ancestral home of the Mian Yao (also known as Guoshan Yao) who live overseas, and it is recognized as the global hometown of Guoshan Yao. As the only Yao cultural and ecological protection experimental area in Shaoguan City, it boasts a profound local ethnic culture and rich intangible cultural heritages, and a total of 26 items included in the intangible cultural heritage lists at national, provincial, municipal, and county levels. Among them, the Yao Panwang Festival, Yao embroidery, and Yao folk songs are representative items of national intangible cultural heritage, accounting for 50% of the intangible heritage of Shaoguan City. The Yao people in Ruyuan belong to a sub-branch of the Pan Yao branch of the Yao nationality, known as “Guoshan Yao”, Guoshan Yao is another name in some regions of China, and the Yao people themselves also use the names Main or You Mian.