Photos: Sharon Tsang

Garments of the Hong Yao

There is a Chinese saying: “Guilin shanshui jia tian xis” which means “Guilin’s mountain and water scenery is the best under heaven.” Located in Guangxi Province of China, Guilin has endless layers of mountain forests along the Lijiang River which has earned it its World Heritage listing. For decades the region has been developing into a tourist hotspot.

Sharon Tsang, a Hong Kong-based trends analyst and contributor to The Kindcraft, recently went on a trekking trip to visit the famous Guilin scenery and to see the traditional dress of Hong Yao ethnic minorities that live there.

Meeting the Hong Yao

For part of my trip I stayed high in the Longji Rice Terraces, which I only made it to with the help of some strong Yao women who carried my bags. The open view to the ladder fields was definitely worth the hike, as was the opportunity to meet the local Yao tribes.

The Hong Yao (Red Yao) are a subgroup of the Yao and live in Longsheng Country in Guangxi Province. Their name derives from the pink tops favored by their women. The Hong Yao women embroider from the back of a cloth without a template. Common motifs include flowers and animals, while the silver decoration signifies tribe membership, gender, and status.

The upper garment commonly worn by older Hong Yao women is made out of a bright pink or red woven piece, with the left front panel crossing to the right. It has embroidered collar trims and silver decorations stitched onto the back hem. The upper garment is characterized by the two marks of tiger claws in square form embroidered in cross-stitch on the back. Legend has it that an emperor was attacked by a tiger when he went hunting, but fortunately was rescued by a Yao lady. To acknowledge this great favor, the emperor stamped the tiger claws in place of his imperial jade seal on the back of the lady’s clothes, and promised that people carrying the tiger claw’s stamp would be exempted from making a kneeling bow to the emperor. To this day, the back of the Hong Yao upper garments are embroidered with a pair of tiger claws.

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Learn about a neighboring Yao tribe in Laos, Yao Mien, by reading The Kindcraft’s feature Famjoy, Master Embroider.