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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

The Miao People’s batik fabrics

By Minjun Xu

August 25

Batik fabric making, which uses wax to dye cloth in intricate patterns, is widespread throughout India and Southeast Asia. But batik has also been a part of Miao culture for about 2,000 years, and is listed as one of China’s Intangible Cultural Heritages.

Batik fabric making, which uses wax to dye cloth in intricate patterns, is widespread throughout India and Southeast Asia. But batik has also been a part of Miao culture for about 2,000 years, and is listed as one of China’s Intangible Cultural Heritages.

According to the Book of Later Han (后汉书), which covers the Eastern Han period from 25 to 220 AD, ancestors of the Miao people in southwestern China already mastered the batik craft by the first century.

Wax applied with a pen-like instrument [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Bingzhen]
Wax applied with a pen-like instrument [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Bingzhen]
Batik, was one of the three main print crafts in ancient China. Using beeswax to create various patterns before dyeing, batik can be found on garments, scarves, bags and even tablecloths.

Wax painting [Image Credit: youth.cn]
Wax painting [Image Credit: youth.cn]
Danzhai County (丹寨) in Guizhou Province has a large Miao community and well-preserved batik tradition.

Miao woman painting patterns [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Zou Weilin]
Miao woman painting patterns [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Zou Weilin]
The batik in Danzhai is made either by “Dianla” (点蜡), a technique using dotted lines to form patterns, or “Huala” (画蜡), which uses solid lines. Two main subjects are nature and geometric patterns, and the Miao in Danzhai prefer the former with its flowers, birds, and insects.

A piece of batik cloth [Image Credit: youth.cn]
A piece of batik cloth [Image Credit: youth.cn]
The development of batik in Danzhai can be divided into three periods.

Before the 20th century batik features primitive geometric patterns that included animals and plants in abstract form. Between 1900 and 1950, the Miao people in Danzhai drew patterns with smoother lines and paid more attention to the details.

Since the 1950s, Danzhai batik has incorporated other Han cultural motifs, like peacock, peonies and phoenix.

Miao woman looking at her batik scarf [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Bingzhen]
Miao woman looking at her batik scarf [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Wang Bingzhen]
With the development of tourism, copies of batik handicrafts are much more common on the market. But if you want to see the authentic process or even try it yourself, come to Guizhou and learn straight from the source.

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