The Miao, mainly found in today’s southwest China, is one of the major ethnic groups in the nation. Famous for their consummate craftsmanship, the Miao is especially good at making silverworks.
Origin and History
In ancient times, Miao people believed that the divine power which enabled them to keep away evil spirits lay in their subsistence, so they hung fruits, seeds, fur and animal bones around their bodies. The hanging stuff changed gradually as time went by until the Ming Dynasty, when they eventually developed into silver works. Over the last 400 years, silver works have become Miao women’s typical accessories, symbolizing wealth, beauty and elegance. They were of such great historical and cultural significance that contemporary historians decided to name it a "Wearable History Book".
A complete set of Miao’s silver works, from head to toe, include ornaments for head, neck, chest, waist, back and even foot, or more specifically, silver hat, silver horns, silver comb, silver ear-rings, silver neckband, silver necklace, silver bracelet, silver waistband, silver leglet, etc. All the above may weigh up to 15 kilograms. The Miao insist that the more, the larger, and the heavier silver accessories a girl wears on, the more attractive she tends to be. It almost takes an hour for one to put the whole set on.
Though usually worn by women, silver accessories are actually made by men. A dozen of working stages are required in the entire process. Silversmiths have to cut the molten silver into very thin slices and threads at first, after extremely careful engraving and weaving of the slices and the threads, exquisite graphic patterns come into existence. The design of the silver decorations is largely inspired by wax printing and Miao women’s equally-exquisite embroidery.
A unique tradition of the Miao is that the Miao parents begin to save and collect fancy silver ornaments for their beloved daughter the day she’s born, so that she can wear really nice silver ornaments on her future wedding day. Besides, Miao females also put on their splendid accessories when great events and festivals fall.
Nowadays, the costumes and accessories are not only part of the Miao’s life; they are also seen as a type of folk art that has drawn considerable attention from tourists, experts and collectors.