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China Daily / 2020-09 / 17 / Page014

Yi ethnic handicrafts lift villagers out of poverty

By Song Mengxing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-17 00:00

The authorities in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Southwest China's Sichuan province have encouraged locals to take up traditional handicrafts, such as embroidery and silverwork, to increase their incomes in recent years, Guangming Daily reported on Sept 14.

The move has also fostered greater protection of local intangible cultural heritage, according to the Beijing-based newspaper.

One workshop in the prefecture's Waqu village, which is home to people of the Yi ethnic group, has hired more than 30 people and now sells several metric tons in silver jewelry products annually. About 200 of the 360 households in the village work making jewelry.

The village sells its products in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, Shanghai and also Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. Its output value has reached 40 million yuan ($5.9 million) annually, according to local officials.

Silversmithing played an important role in lifting the Waqu village out of poverty in 2016.

Tang Kaiqing, a local official, said that many surrounding villages of the Yi ethnic group also produce silverware.

Waqu has set up a silver jewelry cooperative and intangible cultural heritage workshop to offer impoverished families free training and help them find jobs.

Gagu village, less than 20 kilometers from Waqu, is known for its Yi embroidery. Girls in the village usually learn embroidery when they are 5 or 6 and begin sewing and stitching clothing and shoes in their teens.

In recent years, local Gagu authorities encouraged 176 women to set up an Yi embroidery cooperative in the town of Puxiong. It now has 778 members, including more than 70 from impoverished backgrounds, and produces more than 20 kinds of embroidery products.

It produced 3,000 items for sale in 2019, including clothing, bags and scarves. Its sales for last year generated 100,000 yuan in profit.

The village has also founded its own embroidery cooperative which utilizes e-commerce to sell its products to a much wider customer base. In 2019, the cooperative sold more than 1,000 items, including clothing, bags and ornaments.

A local inheritor of Yi embroidery said the village's cooperative is designing its own brand, preparing to open more advanced workshops and working to attract more skilled workers.

In the Yixin community of Xide county, also in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, many residents frequently visit the lacquerware workshop to learn how to color semi-finished products such as tea trays, cups and bowls. After learning these skills, many are able to find employment.

Lacquerware craft takes its cues from ancient tableware used by the Yi ethnic group and is regarded as an important symbol of Yi culture. Traditional Yi lacquerware is mainly colored in red, yellow and black and features symmetrical patterns. A final piece of lacquerware work takes more than 40 different procedures to complete.

Xide is known as being a home of Yi lacquerware, a national-level intangible cultural heritage. In the past, the local lacquerware technique was kept a secret and was forbidden from being passing on to families in other villages or even women, thus creating boundaries to inheritance.

When the Yixin community was built to alleviate poverty last year, 1,698 households moved there. The community opened a lacquerware workshop to help create jobs and inherit intangible cultural heritage.


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