“Bijie Little Flower Miao Woman’s Formal ‘Flower’ Cape”


Design No: CH1126
Embroidery Style: Tie Bu Xiu, Tiao Hua
Era: Nationalist Republic Era (circa 1920)
Framed Dimensions:
1100mm x 1220mm

Reference Material: Yu Wei Ren, Zhong Guo Min Jian Mei Shu Yi Chan Pu Cha Ji Cheng, Guizhou (Part one), p.265.

The Story behind the Artwork

Chinese scholars until the middle of last century spoke about Miao subgroup they called ‘Flower’ Miao. The subgroup now has been reclassified into two distinct subgroups: Big Flower Miao and Little Flower Miao. The two subgroups are known in this way because they both use flower motifs very widely in their embroidery.

An old Miao legend says that during ancient times two brothers were living on the Yellow River in North China. The brothers, because of endless tribal wars, went away together towards the southwest of China. The older brother went in front, riding a horse, followed by the younger brother on foot. The younger brother wished not to leave and, homesick while travelling, drew a picture on his clothing of the homeland they were leaving behind forever. The picture he drew is believed by Miao to be the source of the pattern known as the ‘flower’ pattern used on this cape, and only ever used on capes. Archaeology and history show that the pressure of the expansion of the Han state has forced the Miao to migrate four times, leading them away from the Yellow River towards their newer homelands in Guizhou, Yunnan, Myanmar and most recently overseas. This fine work shows the Miao longing for a lost land.

The decorative motif used at the four corners, and at the ‘west’ and ‘east’ of the cape, is the pattern known as ‘city wall’. The motif, as the name implies, represents the walls of a city. The six squares between the six sections of city wall are vineyards. The vineyards represent the wealth and abundance of the Miao. The six central squares represent the street plan of the city, showing houses and more vineyards. At the centre of each of the six squares can be seen a temple.

Yellow appliqué is used in this style to represent the yellow earth of the provinces along the Yellow River, seen as the homeland of civilisation among the Miao. The stitches used are two types of cross stitch, one suitable for patterns on horizontal and vertical lines, and the other for designs on the diagonal.

This cape is not only a memorial of the history of the Miao nation, it is also has religious significance. The Miao believe that the soul of a person after death travels back along the migration trail far into long-ago history until it comes to the homeland, after which it will then be able to rise up to heaven and peace. The cape is superbly designed, artistically structured, and while spiritual and deeply historical, seems to the contemporary viewer a highly abstract and modern work.