Embroidery, just like other traditional handcrafts, has a strong important position in the Chinese history. It is also a mirror reflecting the glory of human society over the past thousands of years, it has a complete mode of art, not matter in terms of motifs, color matches, or stitching techniques. The historic books, records or passed-down works showed us the craftsmanship of exquisite skills of ancient people. Embroidery is the most valuable legacy in the world, it still inspires modern artists nowadays for the modern fashion designings.
The ancient embroidery art just like a historic book, which is a good display of social change over thousands of years, the witness for the blend of Chinese and foreign cultures. Embroidery, painting, porcelain and other styles of art were mutually penetrated with each other. Represented the main art trend in its times. For example, A large number of cultural relics unearthed in Yin Ruins in Anyang can be clearly seen that a great deal of animal patterns, geometric shapes in embroidery, bronze, pottery and jade objects in the same times. The romantic Chu culture brought us hundreds of patterns of clouds, waves, longevity and etc. by the times of Wei and Jin dynasties, with the introduction of Buddhism and Silk Road. The motif of foreign culture showed up in Chinese embroidery, such as the characters of Greek Mythology, drinking foreigners and Buddhist figures and so on. In Qing dynasty, in addition to use fairy tales, folk legends, lucky words and phrases, religious figures and many other themes. The impact of traditional black-white water painting also appeared in the motifs of embroidery and the style of three blues porcelain come into embroidery too, as well the foreign patterns from western countries , such as " Foreign Flower Patterns ", which deeply influenced Chinese traditional embroidery as well, the world famous Lu Heung Yuen embroidery has long been exported to Europe.
Embroidery is the extension of tattoo and worship of totem. The primitive people think that blood is the symbol of life, painting abstract pattern in red indicates the existence of life, the signs of eternal life, people started to paint their bodies and faces with different patterns and colors, in order to distinguish from different clans, identities, as well as to ward off evils, The ethnical minorities in Yunnan are still kept this ancient tattoo custom. When mankind invented clothes, they found that clothes is warm, but it hided the pattern on body, the patterns, since then, began to shift to the clothes, which is the beginning of embroidery.
To the imperial Emperors, Embroidery patterns and motifs are their symbols of power and authority. There was pecking order in their clothing too. For the ordinary people, embroidery is their worship for happiness, peace and healthy; symbols and yearning for a good life, every motif tells a story, every pattern is a sign of good wishes, which had been stitched into the motifs and patterns of embroidery. Those symbolic approaches, represent the motif of the ancient embroidery.
Embroidery narrates the history and worship of a nationality; embroidery is the way that people depicts their worship of totem , the way to keep the historic records of their own nationality. Take the embroidery of Miao ethnic nationality for example, the Miao embroidery is boasted as “a living history book which has been stitched on the cloth”. According to the legend, the ancestors of Miao tribe used to lived along the Yangtze River Basin, the central heartland of China, a serious battle broken out between the Miao tribe and a tribe which was led by Yellow Emperor, the ancestor of Han nationality, The Miao was defeated, the chieftain was captured alive, the whole Miao tribe was driven to abandon their native land, in Miao embroidery, Miao people fully expressed their nostalgia and homesick for their native homeland by stitching the flowers, trees, landscapes in their native homeland into their embroidery, from generation to generation, no wonder there are great deal of Han patterns and motifs still can be found in Miao’s embroidery nowadays. The most popular embroidery patterns of Miao are dragon, siblings, and so on, but most of all, the butterfly, Miao worships butterfly, a symbol of beauty beyond the vitality, the reincarnation of Miao’s ancestor.
Horse Mane Embroidery of Shui minority.
Horse Mane Embroidery of Shui people is the most ancient and unique embroidery technique in the world, enjoy a reputation as:”the living fossil of embroidery". Its embroidery procedure and technique are complicate, the embroidered clothe is uniquely classical, gorgeous and durable as well, a life-time target for an embroidery collector. China and UNESCO had enlisted the Horse Mane Embroidery into the list of World Non-material Cultural Heritage.
The flora motif is the soul of minority embroidery, according to the pattern, needling and stitching technique, people can distinguish the age of the embroider, different ages result in different works; at young age, the young just begin to learn how to embroider, when the young grown to middle age, a great improvement is achieved in the works, the best embroidery, of course, are done by an old lady.