Artwork: Bijie Yi Baby Carrier
Design No: CH1061
Embroidery Style:
Era: Nationalist Republic (circa 1920)
Framed Dimensions:
570mm x 580mm

The Story behind the Artwork

The Yi people of Guizhou, who belong to many different clans and tribes, make and wear approximately three hundred distinctly different types of garment. The Wu Meng Shan type is favoured among women of the Bijie Yi. The Bijie area has been very important to the history of the whole of the Yi. The clothing of women in the area not only kept over centuries the traditions of the Yi but also showed the changes that occurred in their society from the late Ming onward, when a Han influence began to enter their culture. A phrase used widely was ‘gai tu gui liu’, which means ‘drop the old and go with the new’. The Yi people have a strongly animist religious tradition, worshipping tigers, dragons and fire, among other things. Also they have a deep and strong love of natural beauty. Flowers with odd or extraordinary shapes, for example, hold a particular fascination and are used widely in their art.

This piece is a rare example of Yi embroidery reaching a level of the finest quality. The artist has absorbed into her craft the mythical Qilin Lion from Han culture and adapted it for Yi design purposes, showing the way the Yi have integrated Han spiritual beliefs into their own. The artist elegantly and deftly alternates six flowers with six Qilin Lions. The flowers, which are in bloom, are of the type known as the ‘four-corner’ flower. The lions are full of movement and energy. The flowers by contrast are calm and quiet. The artist has alternated the two in order to create a sense of movement between energy and repose. She has also embroidered white silk rays piercing outwards from each of the decorative motifs in order to show them ‘sparking’ or ‘flashing’ with life force. The use of the two motifs lets us know that the artist wishes her children during their lives to have the power of the lion and the calmness of the flower. She has moved away markedly from the traditional Yi repertoire by bringing in the Han lion, which perhaps shows that she came from a wealthy household in which Han influences were stronger than among ordinary village folk.

The silk, in spite of its age, maintains its brightness and quality. Handwoven blue calico is the base cloth. Light yellow and white silk have been used as the main elements of colour in the embroidery. The contrast of the pale silks with the calico gives it an air of luxury and also of modernity. This work is evidence of how Yi maintained their old traditions while adding knowledge and skills learnt from the Han.