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Exhibition on Costumes of China's Ethnic Minorities Tells of Folklore, History

DATELINE: XINHUA NEWS AGENCY, March 4, 2002, Monday


An exhibition on the costumes of various ethnic minorities in China is being held in Hong Kong to demonstrate the relationship between the costume, folk religion and culture among the minorities in China.

The exhibition, entitled the Chinese Ethnic Costumes Exhibition, is organized by the Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture and held at the City University until April 1.

Featuring a private collection of 22 pieces of costumes from 20 different minorities, such as the Ewenki and Kazak minorities by Lee Mei Yin, one of the institute's project consultants, the exhibition emphasizes costumes from the Miao minority. Some of the other cultural relics are in fact antiques of more than 100 years old, Lee said.

Such costumes are often thought to provide a record of the history and folklore and bear the totems of the minorities' beliefs, as the weaving together of every yarn also bears the marks of the delicate craftsmanship and wisdom of such people, she said.

"These costumes bear a wide range of symbols, many of which are motifs drawn from their daily life but with hidden meanings. For example in the Miao minority, many patterns of the bird and butterfly are found, indicating that these people have once worshipped them as totems. And on these motifs, many variations on the same themes could be knitted out," she explained.

Lee said it was the rich coloring and delicate embroidery work of such costumes, particularly the various cultural symbols, conveyed by the patterns that had made her devote herself to collecting the costumes in the 1980s.

The so-called hundred-pleated skirts, also from the Miao minority, are examples that display artistic virtuosity: as many as 896 pleats with artistic patterns are knitted onto the skirts, she said, adding that each skirt would have taken up to five to six years to complete, she said.

From the raising of silkworms, extracting of silk, weaving of yarns into cloths and dyeing, and the embroidery work, each process reflects a woman's wisdom and hard work in the making, she said.  

Lee said the hand-making of such costumes is an art that is possibly one of the last Chinese cultural heritage that has existed to date in an increasingly modernized China, Lee said.