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Varieties of Costume of Miao Ethnic Group

article selected from Travel China weekly

Chinese historical records show that the Miao ethnic group used to live along the Yellow river, much earlier than any other ethnic group in China. Because of wars, and changes in the living environment, the Miao gradually established many tribes when they moved further south. These tribes have different lifestyles and different types of costume developed during cultural exchanges with other nationalities, while maintaining their own traditions.

a miao girl

There is remarkable difference in clothing and personal adornment between different tribes. For the Miao people in the western part of Hunan Province, women wear costumes popular with the Han (the majority of the Chinese people) and the Manchu in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Miao women in Rongjiang and Congjiang counties in Guizhou Province and Rongshui County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region wear almost the same areas. They wear the Chinese style jacket with high collar and buttons down the front with a diamond embroidered decorative panel, forming a unique style.

There are 23 varieties of costume, falling into five types more prevalent in western Hunan Province, southeastern Guizhou, in the region where Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces meet, and the Hainan Province. Among the five types, the popular styles in western Hunan Province, and eastern and southeastern Guizhou Province are typical and more distinguishable.

Miao in the western part of Hunan Province have kept close ties with the Han Chinese since ancient times. They wear a similar style of clothing to the Han. Men wear a short Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front and leg wrappings, and wrap their head in a turban.Women used to wear red skirts, but now prefer pants with an embroidered apron over the top and a vest over a jacket. They usually trim the cuffs of the sleeves, edges of pants, and jacket hems, with lace for decoration. They like to put a kerchief and silver decoration on their head.

Miao women in eastern Guizhou Province have more choice in their dress. Some like to wear a Chinese-style jacket with buttons on the right, or a long gown, and some like a half-length jacket with loose sleeves. Most wear either a pleated skirt or pants. Men wear a short Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front or a long jacket with buttons on the right side of the front. All of them wear wristbands and wrap a band around their head.

The Miao women are particularly good at weaving, embroidery and cross-stitch work. Thus, they weave cotton cloth themselves and dye it either blue or the deep brown colors they like best. They specially love bright colors of the embroidery or cross-stitch work with geometric patterns of flowers and pet animals. However, the Miao in the southern part of Guizhou tend to favor blue and green colors.

Women in this area have long hair gathered in a knot on the top of the head, which they tie with a cotton kerchief. They also wear an ox-horn for decoration. Some also have their hair in a bun tied with a scarf, and then pin a silver adornment on the bun.

Miao women like more colorful and decorative costumes in the central and southern parts of Guizhou Province, including Zhenning, Pingkan, Anshun, Ziyun counties and cities in suburban Guiyang city. They wear a long pleated skirt and V-style jacket with buttons down the front, and with ribbons and other adornments. Women like to wrap their head with a piece of cloth or a kerchief, or wear a hat in addition to a silver necklace, silver pins, and ear rings. Men in these areas wear a long gown with buttons on the right of the front, a wristband and long pants. During holidays, they put on a colorful jacket and an apron, which are usually worn by women.

miao girls with long-horn decorative piece over head
A Miao tribe with unique long-horn decorative piece over the head

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