First off, let’s confirm that China is not technically a part of Southeast Asia. But for the purposes of a discussion of weaving; ethnicity and tribal distinctions are more important than modern land borders. After visits to Miao weaving villages in North Vietnam and northern Lao, we decided we wanted to visit their cousins in Southwest China.
We started this trip with a plan to visit most of the familiar highlights of a typical tourist trip to China: Beijing, Great Wall, terra cotta soldiers in Xian and Shanghai. But rather than fly directly from Xian to Shanghai, we deviated from the normal path and flew into Guiyang, the capital of the Guizhou Province in southwest China. After 1-night there, we drove to Kaili, the county seat of the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture and spent another night there before heading even deeper into the Chinese countryside in search of two Miao villages.
Finding the first village was not easy. During the course of the day, we discovered that neither our guide nor his driver had ever been to this part of Guizhou Province. As a result, in what would turn out to be a recurring theme, we took a wrong turn on the way to the first minority village.
That first village was Qingman, which is famous for textiles and clothing. It is also the village that was shown in the first TV show we had seen about the Miao minority many years ago. At the time, my wife said “I want to go to this village someday before I die.” Well she’s been there now so knock on wood.
As we drove into the village we spotted a small market but noticed there were no other shoppers there. As you might imagine, as we walked through the various displays, we were quite popular. In addition to weaving fabrics from silk, cotton and hemp, the Miao people favor heavy embroidery and we were particularly attracted to their colorful baby carriers.
One of the ladies selling there invited us to her house to show us how she dyed and wove the fabrics. After some good natured bargaining, we ended up buying a really nice old piece that her mother had made there.
While we were at the house, the mayor of the village happened by and offered to take us to visit another family. So we walked through the village to the house and went to the upstairs (they use the ground floor for animals) and the grandfather started playing a type of traditional wind instrument and then a flute. He really was very talented. Then they gave us a sample of the locally brewed alcohol which was surprisingly smooth.
We eventually went to Shiqiao, another Miao village known for it’s hand made paper products but that half day in Qingman was really one of the highlights of our entire trip.
The video below includes highlights of our visit to the Qingman and Shiqiao Miao villages and includes a cute section of the playful back and forth negotiating of infinitesimal differences in price before finally agreeing on a figure beginning at about 3:30 of the video.
Early the next morning we headed off for Zhengyuan, a very nice resort town on a high plateau on the banks of a river. Continuing our driver’s pattern, he took a wrong turn on the way there, which added about 45 minutes to an already long drive up and over a mountain range.
Once there, we hit all of the local tourist attractions and enjoyed several days relaxing and enjoying this small town.
On our drive back to Kaili from Zhengyuan, we stopped in Shidong, another Miao village that is famous for making silver. We didn’t find the market we expected but did go into the home and shop of a local craftsman. Then we walked around the town and through our guide had a conversation with a nice lady washing her cabbage in the river. And then while we were about to leave, we happened upon some ladies that had their things showing on some blankets where we found some antique baby carriers.
Once back in Kaili, we went to a big weekend market for the ethnic minority tribes in the area. It is next to a park and while we were walking there, there must have been a half dozen people come up to us and ask if they could have their picture taken with us. We had our own paparazzi following us.
We also spent time walking around the large market taking advantage of our last opportunity to see a huge selection of local Miao and Dong weavings. At one stand, we found a really nice piece but noted that there was a crease in it. The vendor took us from the stand to another part of the market where she first tired pressing the crease out but then ripped the seam and resewed it while we waited. Pretty amazing.