Creating a Pattern for Growth

ByWang Ru and Yang Jun March 15, 2021
Shi speaks during the recent fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress. She proposed the establishment of a Miao embroidery research and development center in Songtao Miao Autonomous County. [For China Daily]

 

NPC deputy Shi Liping has spent the last two decades promoting her Miao ethnic community's traditional embroidery.

"With traditional craft, I will make my own contribution to rural revitalization," Shi Liping, wearing the customary clothes of the Miao ethnic group, declared at this year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala on Feb 11, which attracted many people's attention.

The 55-year-old provincial-level inheritor of China's intangible cultural heritage of Miao embroidery, who was awarded a prize for poverty alleviation by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development last year, says she feels "lucky" to have stood on the stage, showing her clothes as an example of the traditional craft.

Over the years, Shi has continued to develop the craft, and in turn it has helped her and the people in Songtao Miao Autonomous County, Guizhou Province, to stitch together a better life. She was also selected to be a deputy at the fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress.

Born in Songtao, like Miao girls, Shi learned the embroidery skills as a child, being taught by her mother and grandmother. She finds the traditional craft rather appealing since "it reflects the wisdom of Miao women", she says.

Without a written language, Miao women record things in their embroidery. "Embroidery has profound cultural connotations. It records the change of our ethnic group, and reflects our respect for the nature and our ancestors," says Shi.

But when she grew up, she found that, as many young people migrated to work in cities, only leaving the old and young in her hometown, there seemed to be fewer people inheriting and developing the craft. She was worried that one day it might be lost.

To ensure that did not happen, starting in 2000, she spent eight years visiting numerous Miao villages honing her embroidery skills. In 2008, she founded Fanjingshan Miao Culture Tourism Product Development, a company selling Miao embroidery products, such as bags, clothes and decorations, trying to preserve the craft through commercial means.

"I believe business can help the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage. We have progressed so fast, so I want to slow down and comb through the craft to see what we can add to it or let go of," says Shi.

Shi Liping, a deputy at the recent fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress, takes the chance to show the traditional craft of Miao embroidery from Songtao Miao Autonomous County, Guizhou Province, an intangible cultural heritage she has helped to develop. [For China Daily]

 

In the beginning, when she established the company, Shi knew that the passing down of the traditional craft would require more than just her own efforts, so she recruited locals  — such as those with disabilities that excluded them from manual labor, people who had been laid-off and returning migrant workers-and trained them as needleworkers.

Over the years, the company has offered jobs to more than 4,000 women who have been "left behind "by their husbands, who go to big cities seeking better-paid work, and lifted more than 300 households out of poverty.

Yang Guangrong, 45, one of Shi's few men employees, used to live on a subsistence allowance from the government after injuring his leg in an accident. He has seen his life change since becoming a needleworker at Shi's company in 2017.

"I'm thankful to Shi. After finding out about my situation, she encouraged me to learn embroidery. Now I have stable work and can save money every month," says Yang.

According to Tian Yingzhi, another needleworker, "We all feel grateful to Shi as she has offered us a very good opportunity. The company pays us according to the number of embroidered items we make, so the harder we work, the higher our income."

The company's products are sold in 67 countries and regions. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, between 60 and 70 percent of the company's total output was sold overseas.

The pandemic has impacted Shi's business significantly. "Our sales volume reached 60 million yuan ($9.22 million) in 2019, but was less than 200,000 yuan in the first several months of 2020," says Shi.

Facing the situation head-on, Shi shifted the company's focus to the domestic market, and established an online shop selling sachets, pillows and key chains adorned with Miao embroidery, and also sold products via livestream.

"The pandemic brought us unprecedented pressure, and made us consider how to continue and transform. We want to take this opportunity to attract more young people to use our products through online channels," she adds.

During this year's two sessions, the annual gathering of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held in Beijing, Shi proposed to establish a Miao embroidery research and development center in Songtao to try and engage more young people with the craft, and to cultivate young talent.

After all the hard work over the years, Shi says more young people are now joining the industry compared with 20 years ago.

"Now the majority of staff at my company are young people who were born in the 1980s and 1990s. We need the participation of a greater number of knowledgeable and capable young people in the development of our industry," she says.

 

(Source: China Daily)

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