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Ethnic Li brocade stitches together history and elegance

Updated: 2024-03-09 11:17 ( China Daily )
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Hu Chunfang (center), Li brocade craftswoman, who lives in Jiamao town in Hainan province's Baoting Li and Miao autonomous county, discusses style with other craftswomen. [Photo/Xinhua]

Wearing a traditional Li ethnic group costume, a woman sits on the ground and weaves colorful yarn into delicate brocade, as spindles gently shuttle back and forth on the loom. These scenes are common in China's southernmost province of Hainan, whether in Li villages or public places, such as scenic spots, museums, and exhibitions.

Li brocade, created by the Li ethnic group on Hainan Island, boasts a history of around 3,000 years. The entire process of the Li brocade tradition, from spinning, dyeing and weaving, to embroidery, was included in the World Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009.

Hu Chunfang, 66, who lives in Jiamao town in the province's Baoting Li and Miao autonomous county, began learning the craft as an apprentice when she was 9. Hu is one of the few provincial-level inheritors of Li brocade in Hainan.

In recent years, Hainan has invested heavily in opening training institutes to teach the techniques of Li brocade.

Since 2012, it has been a course at primary and secondary schools in the province. Local authorities have also formulated a raft of measures to strengthen the systematic protection and innovative development of Li brocade, to help the traditional skills survive time.

To spread Li brocade skills as widely as possible, Hu has compiled teaching materials by herself. Over the years, she has traveled to more than a dozen provinces and cities, taking on more than 40 people, including her relatives, neighbors and even craft lovers all over the country, as her apprentices, and training thousands of people.

Meanwhile, she has also taken her brocade work to participate in the exchange activities of intangible cultural heritage in Japan and France on behalf of Hainan. A set of her handcrafted double knit Li brocade was added to UNESCO's collection when it was exhibited in Paris.

Hainan is vigorously pushing Li culture to go global as well, with the ancient craft expanding its presence on the international stage over the past five years.

In 2019, Li brocade techniques became the first Chinese intangible cultural heritage project to be put on display at UNESCO headquarters. Last year, the exhibition and exchange activities of Li culture entered the world's fashion capital of Milan, Italy.

In addition, Li brocade has appeared in the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference for many consecutive years and has been presented as a national gift to guests in China and abroad.

The exquisite traditional brocade is embracing the modern fashion industry as local authorities make efforts to expand its inheritance and development space further. The city of Wuzhishan in Hainan has signed a talent training agreement with the Shenzhen branch of Italy's top art school, the Istituto Marangoni, with accessories, silhouette, fabric and digitization on the curriculum.

The intangible cultural heritage is also being made into creative products such as handbags, bookmarks, table flags and costumes. As nice-looking and utilitarian souvenirs, they have been introduced to Hainan's major tourist attractions, popular business areas and airports. Some products have entered cultural exhibitions and consumer markets in foreign countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Norway.

Hu says that with Li brocade blooming nowadays, "its cultural value not only belongs to China, but also the world"



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