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  Chinese Way>Life
Stitch In Time


The Paijiao are a tribe of less than 180 people in Yunnan, whose unique ethnic costumes have found a savior in a Han tailor, but whose other traditions are on the brink of extinction.

Few Paijiao, an oxen-worshiping tribe in southern Yunnan province, hold on to their age-old traditions. Provided to China Daily

When Yao Xueqiang married an ethnic Paijiao woman after leaving the army more than 20 years ago and settled in her Mangang village, it marked the start of this Han man's bonding with her tribe - a bond forged by needlework. Yao, the only tailor in the village, has helped prevent the traditional costumes of this little known ethnic group in China from vanishing.

Nestled in the thick tropical forests of Mengla county, Yunnan province, near the border between China and Laos, the community of fewer than 180 Paijiao people in Mangang was also caught in the currents of commerce sweeping China in the early 1980s.

Highways, television and telephones connected the village, located about 40 km from the county seat, to modernity.

The age-old Paijiao traditions of weaving and sewing gradually began to disappear and be replaced by colorful and cheap factory-produced clothing.

Yao's arrival, however, made a difference. A soldier stationed with frontier defense troops only 2 km from Mangang, Yao met and fell in love with Yila, a Paijiao woman, during his trips to the village to buy vegetables for the garrison.

The two decided to return to Mangang after spending six months in Yao's hometown in Sichuan province following their wedding, as Yila was afraid that her brothers would not be able to look after their parents.

Her mother's costumes were the only models available to Yao when he decided to try his hand at making some costumes.

But, he did not merely copy the originals; instead, he made changes such as replacing the raglan sleeve design with set-in sleeves, which are technically more difficult but look more form-fitting.

He also reproduced the traditional costumes for Paijiao men based on descriptions given by his father-in-law, Boben.

Yao, 45, is now the only tailor making traditional Paijiao costumes in Mangang.

And thanks to his suggestions, the Paijiao have shifted to wearing a horn-like headwear, instead of coiling their hair into the traditional horn shape - a time-consuming affair.

Very little is known about this group and the occasional media reports about Paijiao inevitably describe these oxen-worshiping people as "mysterious".

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