The cultivation of rice and maize are the chief means of subsistence for the Miao people. Rice, maize, millet and sweet potatoes are their staple foods, although in more northern areas they eat maize, buckwheat, potatoes and oats. Miao food typically employs sour and peppery flavours to enhance their dishes. Although the Miao diet is relatively simple, Miao dishes such as Fish in Sour Soup and snacks such as La Rou (a kind of cured, smoked bacon) are popular throughout Guizhou for their rich, flavoursome taste.
The craftwork of the Miao people is particularly magnificent. Miao men are accomplished at silverwork and all of the silver adornments worn by the Miao women will have been made by Miao silversmiths. The artistry of the Miao traditional dress is in part thanks to these silversmiths and in part thanks to the Miao women’s aptitude for embroidery. Their skill at embroidery is renowned throughout China and the Miao women embroider all of their own clothes. The main colours used in Miao embroidery are red and green, although colours will vary between different subgroups of Miao people. The patterns and figures embroidered on clothing are based partly on the natural world but also partly on the artists’ imagination. This is why dragons and phoenixes also feature in many designs and why certain animals, such as fish and birds, and plants will look different compared to how they appear in real life. Miao embroidery is famed for its delicacy, imaginative designs and use of vibrant colour.
The Miao women are also famed for their skill at the art of batik and their technique dates back over 1,000 years. First, the women use a knife that has been dipped in hot wax to draw a pattern onto the cloth. The cloth is then boiled in dye, which melts the wax. Once the wax has melted off, the cloth is removed from the boiling dye. The rest of the cloth will be coloured by the dye but the pattern under the wax will have remained the original colour of the cloth. These batik cloths are incredibly colourful and, although the method seems crude, the patterns on the cloth can be wonderfully elaborate.
The craftworks of the Miao people are beyond compare and look even more beautiful when worn during festivals or daily life. If you’re travelling through Guizhou during festival time, we strongly recommend you visit any of the Miao villages and marvel at the stunning traditional dress of the Miao people.