American Designer Promotes Local Culture in Hainan

 November 17, 2023
American expatriate Nicki Johnson introduces her handicrafts to children at her shop in Haikou, south China's Hainan Province, Oct. 30, 2023. [Xinhua/Guo Cheng]


HAIKOU, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) — Nestled in the picturesque Baishamen Park in Haikou, the capital of south China's island province of Hainan, "Island Delights" is a handicraft shop with a collection of distinctive Hainan-themed handmade items and artworks, attracting a steady stream of passers-by.

The owner of the shop is an American expatriate named Nicki Johnson, who is known as Xie Min among the local Chinese people. Having lived in Hainan for 18 years, she has become a passionate promoter of the local culture.

Nicki's connection with China dates back to 1999, when she was a university student and volunteered as a teacher for an English camp in Guangzhou City in south China. Although her initial experience with China was brief, lasting just a few weeks, it ignited her curiosity.

In 2000, she returned to China to attend an academic program at Xiamen University in east China's Fujian Province for one semester, during which she immersed herself in learning the Chinese language, history and culture. The program also afforded her the opportunity to visit various places in China, including Xi'an, Shanghai, and Beijing, offering her a captivating glimpse of the country.

The experience left a lasting impression, prompting her desire to return. "China is such a huge country, and there's so much more for me to learn. I had to come back," she recalled. Consequently, she and her husband Eric decided to relocate to China.

Among a few job applications, they received offers from Hainan and promptly accepted one without hesitation, she said.

Upon arriving in Hainan in 2005, the couple instantly liked the tropical climate, beautiful beaches, wonderful food, friendly locals and local culture. Intrigued by these aspects, they explored different opportunities, eventually moving from Sanya to Haikou.

"It was a bit of a random choice, but I think it was the right choice, and we've been very happy here," she said.

For years, Nicki had undertaken various roles related to Hainan tourism. Eventually, she founded her own company three years ago, with a focus on promoting the island to the world.

Her fascination with the Li brocade of the Li ethnic minority, a symbol of Hainan traditional culture, blossomed after receiving a gift from a friend many years ago. Subsequently, during her extensive travels all around the island, including many Li villages, she met people who were engaged in the manual creation of the brocade. She also got the opportunity to see the entire process, from spinning and dyeing to weaving and embroidery.

"It's such hard work. It takes such a long time to finish one piece. And so I respect the people who create this beautiful art," Nicki said.

"A lot of them spend their entire lives learning how to do it, and so I wanted to do something to support them," she said, explaining her encouragement to create artwork inspired by Li brocade and to promote the culture.

While Nicki has always had a passion for art, it was initially just a hobby, and she had to learn from scratch when it came to Li brocade. Delving into books on Li brocade and seeking guidance from both international and local artists, she embarked on the journey of designing and crafting these handicrafts.

"In Chinese, there is a saying, it is never too late to learn, and I really love that," she said. "Keep on learning something new and life will never be boring."

She designed and made several different handicrafts, ranging from jewelry to souvenirs, inspired by traditional Li brocade patterns including fish, turtles and lightning, and last year, she opened a small shop.

Speaking about the name of the shop, "Island Delights," Nicki noted that there are so many wonderful things about Hainan, and discovering something new on the island truly brings a sense of delight to people.

"So I wanted to bring all of these different parts of Hainan culture and the beautiful art that really delighted me here in one place so that more people can also discover them," she said.

The items in her shop are crafted from eco-friendly materials like coconut shells and fabric, as part of an effort to minimize the use of plastic.

So far, Nicki has organized several exhibitions in collaboration with local Li brocade designers as well as artists from the United States and many other countries. "I don't want to just show my work, I want to support the whole arts community here in Hainan," she said.

Construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port is now progressing in full swing. "I think it's an exciting time to be a business owner here in Hainan. Now there are more and more opportunities, and you're able to do a lot more here no matter where you come from," said Nicki, adding that she envisions an exciting future for Hainan, with more opportunities for business owners and greater global connections.

"For me, Hainan is really like a second home. The longer I live here, the more I learn about the local culture, the happier I am," she said. 

American expatriate Nicki Johnson makes a piece of handicraft at her shop in Haikou, south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 3, 2023. [Xinhua/Guo Cheng]


American expatriate Nicki Johnson makes a piece of handicraft at her shop in Haikou, south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 3, 2023. [Xinhua/Guo Cheng]


(Source: Xinhua)


Please understand that,a non-profit, information-communication website, cannot reach every writer before using articles and images. For copyright issues, please contact us by emailing: The articles published and opinions expressed on this website represent the opinions of writers and are not necessarily shared by