Miao Baby Carriers

Miao Baby Carriers
The Miao are one of the 50 or so officially recognized minority cultures
within China. They predominantly live in Guizhou Province, usually
occupying the higher hilly regions. They live an agrarian life, typically
without the benefit of modern amenities such as electricity or indoor
plumbing. Being somewhat isolated, they have maintained many of their
cultural traditions. They are well-known for their skill with the sewing arts,
which they have practiced for centuries.
The Miao have no written language, so motifs are their visual language.
They utilize this visual vocabulary both conventionally and creatively in
their design compositions. In other words, a wonderful artistic license is
usually at work within traditional forms such as their baby carriers. The
Miao are admired for this aspect of their art. Dense compositions of stylized
figures, such as flowers or butterflies, result in rich artistic abstractions.
Typically, a motif is used to represent an auspicious concept such as health,
or wealth, or happiness. The Miao have many motifs which convey
symbolic meanings. A few examples would be:
butterfly – The butterfly is the most important motif in Miao culture.
According to their creation legend, the gods created the earth and planted
many maple trees. A butterfly emerged from one of these trees and laid 12
eggs. Over time, various animals were born from these eggs, including the
first human. Consequently, the Miao people consider the butterfly to be the
creator of all living beings. Miao women embroider butterfly images on their
baby carriers, because they believe that the Mother Butterfly brings good
luck and good health to children, and grants Miao women the blessing of
dragon – The Miao view the dragon as their friend. It is a symbol of
happiness, and it represents people's hopes and dreams. The depiction of the
dragon is variable. The head of a Miao dragon may be replaced by the head
of another animal, such as an ox, chicken, silkworm, or even a human being,
while the tail is most often replaced by a fish tail or a centipede's legs. The
dragon motif was originally snakelike and associated with rain – and
therefore, by symbolic extension, with prosperity and a good harvest.
spiral – as a reference to the tradition of killing an ox as a sacrifice to their
ancestors, the Miao use a spiral pattern, which imitates the hair whorl
on an ox’s head, to indicate reverence for their ancestors.
flower – beauty and youth
bird – freedom and happiness
fish – fertility
pomegranate – prosperity
bat – blessedness
Zhijin style baby carriers
Miao ethnic group
Zhijin County and surrounding area
distinctive design element: chrysanthemum flower
traditional embroidery technique: twisted couching stitch
The chrysanthemum plant has a long history of use in Chinese traditional
medicine. Making and consuming chrysanthemum wine and tea can be
traced back many centuries. Because of its perceived curative properties,
the chrysanthemum is believed to have the ability to drive away evil spirits
and misfortune.
Chrysanthemums bloom in late autumn and early winter. Since they flourish
in these colder days when other flowers are fading away, they are symbolic
of one who maintains his or her virtue despite adversity and temptation.
Chrysanthemum flowers can also represent happiness and longevity. The
Miao in the Zhijin area primarily use chrysanthemums to symbolize good
luck and the wish for children and grandchildren.
Zhijin style
On the right above is a realistic painting of some yellow chrysanthemum
On the left above, we can see that this baby carrier is filled with stylized
versions of the same flower (both yellow and white).
While most of the chrysanthemums on Zhijin style baby carriers are
embroidered in yellow or white, other colors can be found, as well.
Zhijin style
Zhijin style
Qianxi style baby carriers
Miao ethnic group
Qianxi County and surrounding area
Guizhou Province
distinctive design elements: dragon, phoenix, flower, bird
embroidery techniques: satin patchwork, coiling border
The dragons from Qianxi are depicted in a free, creative, and often
polymorphic way. They appear on the baby carriers as symbols of happiness
and good fortune.
Another favorite motif is the phoenix-like bird called Jiwei. According to
the Miao creation myth, after the Mother Butterfly laid her 12 eggs, which
were to become the first 12 animals of the world, she could not incubate
them herself. The Jiwei bird, born from twigs of the maple tree, sat on them
for the 12 years that it took them all to hatch. So tiring was this experience,
that she lost all of her feathers. Then, she was reborn with a magnificent
cascade of beautiful feathers.
As representatives of the female/male or yin/yang forces, the Jiwei bird and
the dragon sometimes appear together on baby carriers from Qianxi, in the
desire that everything should be in peace and harmony. The phoenix and
dragon are also symbolic of happiness and good fortune.
Qianxi style
Qianxi style
Butterfly style baby carrier
Miao ethnic group
Shuicheng County and Liuzhi Special District
Guizhou Province
distinctive design elements: butterfly and peony
These baby carriers are replete with intricate and highly stylized butterfly
motifs. The Miao believe that the butterfly brings good luck and good
health to their children. It also bestows upon Miao women the power of
fertility. The numerous butterflies on this style represent the blessing of
having more children, and therefore more happiness.
Butterfly style
Butterfly style
Additional styles
Many, many other styles of baby carrier exist within the Chinese minority
cultures. Most are distinctive to their particular locale, but borrowing of
visual elements does occur between neighboring villages and towns. This
fact can make it difficult to precisely categorize each baby carrier, especially
when there is an absence of proper field collection information.
Following are images of about 20 more styles of beautiful baby carriers,
each one having evolved and refined its unique look over countless
generations of creative inspiration and hard work.
Miao with tin embroidery
Miao or Dong (center circle pattern)
Miao cross-stitch from Huaxi area
Dong headcover (geometric pattern)
Dong nine suns
Dong floral pattern
Dong amulet pouch
Shui baby carrier (horsetail hair couching)
Dong headcover (flowers of the banyan tree)
Miao from Liping County
Dong moon flowers
Buyi baby carrier
Miao coins flowers pattern
Miao little flower with geometric pattern
Yao baby carrier
Zhuang baby carrier
Miao headscarf
Miao Hmong-style from Yunnan Province
Buyi baby carrier
Miao from Maige village
August 2011
Mark Clayton
[email protected]