Yang Huazhen [wenbozaixian.com]
Yang Huazhen, 60, is a native of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Sichuan Province. She always wanted to do something for her hometown. That is why, nine years ago, she quit her job as a journalist and started an embroidery business.
Yang is now an ethnic embroidery expert. She has helped bring her minority handicrafts from the mountains to the markets, greatly increasing local women's earnings.
Starting Business, Teaching Embroidery skills
Yang grew up in an embroiderers' family. Her parents belong to the Tibetan ethnic group and the Qiang ethnic group, respectively.
She worked as a newspaper photographer for 20 years until 2008 when the province's Wenchuan County was hit by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake.
"Aba was also a major quake zone at that time. Many people in my hometown died or became homeless. I thought I should do something for them," Yang recalled.
"At that time, they were left with nothing; and, they had no practical skills. So, I thought, I must find a method to help them.
"Then I considered my strong point – I could teach them the skill of embroidering. This way, they could make some small handicrafts and sell them in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan) to make a living."
Yang submitted her resignation and returned to her hometown. Her idea was met with enthusiastic response from over 10 elderly women.
"So, we, a team of elderly women averaging 60, left the mountains and went to Chengdu," she added.
"I really admire myself for my courage at that time. All I thought was to help my fellow villagers support themselves for a livelihood. I didn't expect the difficulties we would run into.
"These elderly sisters had never left the mountains. After we got to Chengdu, they even didn't know about traffic lights and how to go across the road."
Yang gathered them together, arranging everything.
"I rented a room for 900 yuan (U.S.$ 134) a month and we all lived there. I bought clothes, cotton threads, design patterns, and we made embroideries together," she remarked.
"I paid all of my attention to teaching them embroidery and neglected the most important thing – to whom would we sell our products?"
To extend influence and make publicity, Yang spent 30,000 yuan (U.S.$ 4,477) setting up the Aba Tibetan Weaving and Embroidery Association.
Three months after the team settled in Chengdu, Yang was beset by great financial pressure because her savings were only enough for them to maintain a month more.
"I got somewhat disheartened. Although I had skills, I was a layman in management. I told my elderly sisters that we would hold on for another month, and that 'let's go back if we still can't sell our products,'" she said.
"Even now I still remember their disappointed look after hearing my words. I don't think I will forget it all my life."
As the Chinese saying goes, when misfortune reaches its limit, good luck comes in. Just as Yang's business got into an impasse, a company found her, purchasing all of their products with 380,000 yuan (U.S.$ 56,716) and offering them a venue for making art creations.
In May 2009, Yang set up a workshop in Chengdu, a base for her preserving and passing down Tibetan and Qiang weaving and embroidery crafts.
In October 2011, she established a Tibetan and Qiang embroidery inheriting and training institute in Wenchuan County. Adopting a development model that integrated inheritors, association, company and rural cooperative together, Yang has trained over 1,500 rural women and helped over 300 people achieve flexible employment so far.
Under her efforts, Tibetan and Qiang embroideries have made waves beyond ethnic Qiang villages and gained the appreciation of people in other parts of the country and the world.
In May 2014, three ethnic crafts – Qiang embroidery, Jiarong Tibetan weaving and tiaohua (cross-stitch) embroidery – were added to China's list of intangible cultural heritages. Meanwhile, Yang was granted an award for her outstanding contribution to their inheritance, preservation and promotion.
To let the world learn about Tibetan and Qiang embroidery, she built a partnership with Japanese beauty brand Shu Uemura, and with the coffee chain Starbucks.
Source of Life and Eternal Youth, two Qiang embroidery patterns she designed for Shu Uemura, have been engraved onto bottles holding skincare products.
Moreover, Yang has established her own brand – Moerduo, named after a mountain in her hometown. Yang said she hoped to develop it into the country's own brand of Tibetan and Qiang embroideries, adapting traditional crafts to the times and bringing national culture to the world.
(Source: wenbozaixian.com/Translated and edited by Women of China)
Please understand that womenofchina.cn,a non-profit, information-communication website, cannot reach every writer before using articles and images. For copyright issues, please contact us by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. The articles published and opinions expressed on this website represent the opinions of writers and are not necessarily shared by womenofchina.cn.