Across China: Young People Reinvigorate Old Craftsmanship of Dong Cloth

December 23, 2019
Editor: Ling Xiao

GUIYANG, December 20 (Xinhua) — Having given up making traditional Dong cloth for nearly 20 years, Wang Yangying, 76, is considering returning to her old job, since she was inspired by a group of young Dong people.

"Many Dong people learned to weave and dye cloth from an early age. I used to make clothes myself. However, products made by machine quickly replaced handmade cloth. Besides, we had to do farm work every day, so most of us gave up the tradition," Wang said.

Wang never expected she would dust off her traditional techniques until she met Yang Chenglan, a young woman who returned to her hometown in Zaima Township, Rongjiang County in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture and developed a startup to make and sell traditional Dong cloth.

"She even exported the cloth overseas, which gave me the idea to start making Dong cloth again and promote this old craftsmanship to more out-of-towners," Wang added.

Yang, 33, worked for different schools and training institutions for more than seven years after graduating from a university in southwestern Guizhou Province in 2009. She decided to go back to her hometown out of concern for the high number of leftover elders and children there and the need to keep the traditional culture alive.

"I want to protect the traditional Dong weaving skills so that more people outside can learn about Dong homespun cloth, and thus appreciate our culture," she said.

Yang returned to the town in 2016 and rented a room as her workshop. She used to persuade local women to join her and her husband was responsible for the promotion and selling of Dong cloth online.

"It was not easy at the beginning, as local people didn't believe that the traditional cloth could be turned into marketable products. Since the weaving process is so elaborate and time-consuming, very few women wanted to join us," Yang said.

Without chemical dyes, Yang uses more than a dozen plants including indigo, persimmon, safflower, maple and waxberry leaves to dye the cloth. She said she learned the methods from her grandmothers.

As the unique craftsmanship and dyeing methods have gradually grown in popularity with consumers, Yang has enjoyed an increasing number of orders, as well as support from local women. Many rural residents, young and old, who master the traditional weaving and dyeing skills from neighboring counties, have now joined in the Dong cloth manufacturing.

The traditional cloth Yang makes sells from 20 yuan (2.9 U.S. dollars) to 400 yuan per meter. In 2018, her sales soared to two million yuan, and many products were exported to Japan and Australia.

Yang Qiuyun was a migrant worker in eastern Zhejiang Province and southern Guangdong Province before 2016. The 27-year-old has learned to weave and dye from Yang Chenglan since 2016. Thanks to the workshop, she doesn't have to leave her family to find a job and can earn about 4,000 yuan per month.

"What struck me most was that rural areas need young people with knowledge to lead locals to a better life," Yang Qiuyun said.

Since the country has vigorously pushed ahead with its rural revitalization strategy in recent years, an increasing number of talented youngsters have returned to their rural hometowns and pooled their wisdom, injecting their energy into China's vast rural areas.

 

(Source: Xinhua)

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