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Textiles of the Miao People on View in Birmingham
Photographs from “China’s Minority Peoples,” China Pictoral Publishing House.



BIRMINGHAM.- The Birmingham Museum of Art is currently showing the exhibit Amongst the Clouds: Textiles of the Miao People from Southwest China through August 27. The Miao people, the largest of China’s ethnic minorities, trace their history back 5,000 years to China’s Yellow River Valley. Their early history tells of famine, wars, separations and migrations. Finally they settled in seven mountainous provinces where they lived, until recently, in relative isolation. Spread among the mist shrouded mountains, the Miao developed a unique and lively culture over the past two thousand years.

Their traditions include a distinct and an exceptional love of embroidered textiles. Their minute stitching in brightly colored threads and braids are sometimes highlighted with tassels and silver. The embroidery of each piece tells a story that can be read by those who know how to interpret them. For example, the Miao believe they are the descendants of birds and butterflies, so these frequently appear in their embroideries. The pieces in the exhibition are drawn from the collection of Susan Conway, a long-time collector of textiles from the Miao. Her extensive collection contains not only everyday men’s and women’s wear, but also superb festival and ceremonial costumes. The collection also includes delicately embroidered baby carriers and blankets, festival banners, hats, shoes, and a variety of exquisitely worked silver jewelry. One of the most significant holdings of such material in the United States, this is the first exhibition of Ms. Conway’s collection.

Related to the Hmong of Southeast Asia, the Miao people lived in central China during ancient times. Their ancestors established the Three-Miao State along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River during the Zhou Dynasty. Pushed southward by the rising tide of the Han, Miao clans became scattered and isolated from one another among the Miaolong and Wuling Mountains. Forming strong groups with diverse dialects, customs, and dress, there was no love-lost between them. In the past, Chinese governments often recruited them as mercenaries against one another (as can be seen in the popular 1992 Jet Li movie Asia Invincible).










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Textiles of the Miao People on View in Birmingham




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