“Zhijin Miao ‘Bird’s Eyes’ Pattern Baby Carrier”


Design No: CH1081
Embroidery Style: Suo Bian Xiu
Era: Nationalist Republic Era (circa 1920)
Framed Dimensions:
1090mm x 1020mm

Reference Material: Yu Wei Ren, Zhong Guo Min Jian Mei Shu Yi Chan Pu Cha Ji Cheng: Gui Zhou Juan (Part One), p.100-1

The Story behind the Artwork

Miao embroidery from Zhijin County, Guizhou, is unique in terms of its technique and use of colour. This work is an excellent example. A formal baby carrier, or bei shan, it was worn by the women of a Miao clan when celebrating festivals. A baby carrier of this quality was something every Miao mother felt obliged to possess, because of its significance in showing her love for her baby while at the same time protecting the baby from evil and bad luck.

The two red squares that dominate the upper panel of the baby carrier are embroidered with very powerful symbols. Four pomegranates inside each square are seen in cross section. The pomegranate in Miao culture represents all things relating to human reproduction and the desire for future generations for the clan. Golden bird’s eyes fill the pomegranates in a highly symmetrical way. Bird’s eyes also have been embroidered symmetrically in the corners of each square. The eyes serve as emblems for the whole bird. The bird is one of the oldest features of Miao spiritual life, and plays a key role in their ancient worship. The two songs ‘The God of Thunder and Jiangyang’ and ‘Dragon Daughter and Fish Man’ tell the tale of how the bird saves mankind. The artist when making this work used the bird to say that life goes on for eternity.

White bands and oblongs in both the upper and lower panels of the baby carrier are embroidered with chrysanthemums. The chrysanthemums are deployed in various sizes, in rows of varying numbers, the blooms all linked. The sizes, numbers and links are meaningful in terms of myth and legend. The flower symbolizes the genitalia of women, while also celebrating the beauty of the flower in its own right. The use of colour in the bands and oblongs is remarkable subdued by Miao standards; a subdued palette is characteristic of art among the Zhijin Miao. The white base cloth is handwoven calico. The black embroidery is silk. The very quiet use of colour in this way provides a wonderful contrast with the rich gold and red of the two central squares of the top panel, filled as they are with ripe fertility.

The embroidery style required the artist to keep extremely close control of the stitch, which is locked-edge stitch. Locked-edge is not only very laborious but demands a high level of skill.

Very few pieces of such high quality and style have survived from Zhijin. This is a rare collector’s work.