Clothes of Minority Ethnic Groups

•  Stories about Chinese Ethnic Clothes

•  Making Chinese Ethnic Clothes

•  Ethnic Clothes in the Age of the Internet

Clothes embody a nation's culture, and an important part of culture is tradition - all of China's ethnic groups have their own clothing traditions.

China has 56 ethnic groups. The Han form the largest ethnic group. When you look at the clothing of ethnic groups for the first time, it is obvious that their clothes, ornaments, and styles are dazzling. Each ethnic group is unique - even communities only several kilometers apart other have their own clothes and rules regarding clothes. Take the Yao ethnic group, for example. The Yao ethnic group has a long history, which was recorded in Book of the Later Han, China's official history book. Because Yao communities scattered to different regions, their clothes have different characteristics. People often name these clothes according to their mode of production, location, and characteristics.

Yao people's Clothes

The Yao people are mainly found in Guangxi, Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Jiangxi. Some Yao women's head ornaments are very large. Women who wear head ornaments that look like coiled buns are called "coiled Yao". Yao women who wear flat head ornaments are called "flat Yao." The Yao women of Guangxi, in the Fangcheng area, are called "flower head Yao" due to their embroidered square kerchiefs covered with rosy tassels that fall to the neck on both sides. Women in the Longsheng area are called "red Yao" because of their mostly red embroidered clothing, which comprises collarless upper garments with narrow sleeves and long skirts or short skirts with leggings. Yao men in the Nandan area are called "white trousered Yao" thanks to their white knee-length knickerboks embroidered with red vertical patterns. Yao who wear clothes made of blue patterned cloth are called "indigo Yao". These are only some of the variations in clothing styles that can be found within an ethnic group.

Mongolian Wrestling Suit

Another example of ethnic clothing with distinct characteristics includes Mongolian wrestling suits. Today, these suits look like exquisite performance costumes. On the lush Inner Mongolian prairie, the Nadam Fair is held every year. The fair features various sports competitions, such as horse races and wrestling, as well as art performances.

Wrestlers generally wear a leather sleeveless suit with embroidered patterns, edges inlaid with silver rivets and round silver mirrors or auspicious words inlaid in the middle of the back. The broad leather belt or silk waistband is also inlaid with two lines of silver rivets. There are colorful ribbons at the collar of the sleeveless suit, which softly drift in the wind, in contrast to the suit's armor-like purpose. Wrestlers wear loose long trousers with wrinkles made of white cloth or colored silk. Knee protectors with embroidered edges are worn outside the trousers. Flower and animal-head patterns are embroidered on the knees. Wrestlers do not wear hats, and sometimes wear red, yellow and blue kerchiefs. Their shoes are "Mahai embroidered boots" or "Bulier boot," made of cloth. Young Mongolians in wrestling suits look valiant, handsome and tough. These suits are valued for their beauty, craftsmanship, and unique characteristics.

The Oroqen People's Clothes

In the immense forests of the Greater and Lesser Khingan Mountains, the Oroqen people have lived for a long time, wearing their typical animal fur and skins. Almost all of the clothes of the Oroqen people are made of roe deer fur. In autumn and winter, the long furs and thick skins of roe deer killed in the autumn and winter are used to keep out the cold; summer clothes are made with the thin and short fur of roe deer killed in the summer.

The Oroqen people make roe deer fur robes, jackets, trousers, boots, socks, gloves, aprons, and sleeveless overcoats. Even shoulder bags are made of roe deer fur. Of all these roe deer clothes, the roe deer hat is most peculiar - it is made of a complete roe deer head. The traditional method of making this hat involves peeling the dead roe deer's head, drying the skin, applying the deer's mashed-up liver in the form of a paste, and rubbing it in until the skin softens. Two pieces of black fur are then sewn into the eye sockets as eyes, and then the ears are cut off and replaced by two fake ears made of roe deer fur. The fake ears are added to the hat so that it looks as realistic as possible -when a hunter is hiding with only the hat exposed, wild roe deer often assume they are looking at a fellow deer, making it easier for the hunter to capture them; if the real ears are left on the hat, other hunters may shoot the hunter by mistake.

Hats of Minority Ethnic Groups

The Daur people living in northeast China also make hats with the skin of animals, but they use not only roe deer scalps, but also fox and wolf skins. The Ewenki people, who live in the thick forest, prairie and river valley area south of the Argun River in the northeast of China, also wear animal head hats. They use not only roe deer heads, but also elk heads. The style of these hats is typically is rough, lifelike and natural. Animal head hats made with real animal heads are characteristic of nomadic ethnic groups in the northeast, and are closely linked to hunting activities.

Ancient Mongolian noble ladies wore large, high cap crowns. Later these crowns were not just worn by noble ladies, but also by ordinary women, who wore them during folk festivals or grand ceremonies. These crowns are 30-50 centimeters high and are made of birch bark. They have square tops, are wrapped in colored silk and are decorated with sequins, amber, and peacock or pheasant feathers. Bird feathers are essential, while other decorations can be added or removed from the crowns at will, so they are called "cuckoo hats." Girls also like wearing scarves, usually made of cloth or satin more than one meter long, wrapped around their heads. Wrapping methods vary with regions and ages.

The Yugur people wear a white felt hat, shaped like an inverted trumpet, with a round brim. There are two circles of black silk on this type of hat. The crown is decorated with various patterns, and the top supports a red tassel. It is said that this hat commemorates a heroine of the Yugur people who fought with devils to the last drop of blood - the red tassels represent her blood.

Capes of Minority Ethnic Groups

The Naxi women wear a cape, called a "day and night" or "seven-star cape," which is usually made of a complete black sheepskin sewn with a black woolen edge six centimeters wide. Two discs are embroidered on both shoulders with silk thread, representing the sun and the moon. Seven small disks are sewn below in a line, representing stars. The whole cape is fixed by crossing a wide band of white cloth in front of the chest strong enough to carry a child or objects on the back.

The Yi people also wear capes but theirs are different from the Naxi cape in that they are smaller (about 25 centimeters long and about 1 centimeter thick) and are made of a round piece of wool felt instead of a whole sheepskin. Two embroidered bands nearly two meters long are nailed on the cape or shawl, crossed in front of the chest. The shawl covers the waist and hips.

Ethnic shawls

In terms of styles and production methods, there are two kinds of ethnic shawls. The first type of shawl is traditional with no cloth surface. There are two iridescent patterns similar to bronze drums in shape, and two transverse rectangular patterns embroidered on white wool felt. The patterns are usually black, decorated with some red and yellow patterns, and the style is primitive and rough. The other type of shawl has a black cloth surface embroidered with various exquisite and beautiful patterns. The shawl worn on the body can set off dazzling clothes, and constitutes a major characteristic of Yi women's clothing in the west of Yunnan.

There is a beautiful story about the origin of Yi shawl decorations. It is said that a long time ago, during the turmoil of war, several Yi girls were chased by soldiers and hid in the Qinghua Cave in the east of Dali. The girls were frightened but several spiders appeared in the cave and wove cobwebs to cover the cave opening. The soldiers came in search of the girls but, after seeing the cave opening covered by thick cobwebs, they concluded that the girls were not there. After the girls escaped, to thank the spiders for saving their lives, they embroidered spiders on felt -the two round sharp-angled patterns are spider patterns. Another belief is that the two round patterns are two big open eyes - wearing a shawl with two open eyes on your back will frighten off evil spirits.

Yi men and women in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains in Sichuan and Yunnan wear "chaerwa," a big, loose cloak woven with wool. It can be used for many things - as a garment during the day, a rain cape in the rain, and a quilt at night. Old people usually wear black and blue chaerwa, while young people like sharply contrasting gorgeous colors such as red, yellow, green, orange and pink. Because its upper end is tied around the neck, the front is open and there are tassels along the bottom. Women wear chaerwa with flower-patterned kerchiefs on the head and two small crisscrossed plaits.