Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage —— Silversmithing

For countless years, the Miao have worn silver jewelry. They have carried it with them on great migrations, and worn it to ward off evil or attract good fortune.

By Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Wedging the Small Silver Pieces into the Welding Spot, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Festive Costume (part 1) by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Silver Jewelry

Throughout the year, the Miao celebrate many festivals, Miao girls dress up in jewelry,  and parade through the village in an extraordinary procession of silver.

Going out by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

A Miao girl, all dressed up in festive costume, ready to go out.

Girls Marching in the Parade by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Gathering by the river's edge, shimmering from head to toe, they dance in step to the beat of a drum. From a distance, they look like rippling waves of silver. The weight of a whole set of silver jewelry is 12-13 kg, depending on the craftsmanship, the price ranges from 70,000~180,000 RMB.

Silver Crown by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

A Five-Generation Family Heritage

Harvest by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

At the age of 51, Wu Guozheng is a well-known silversmith in the town of Shidong.

Scrutinization by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

He comes from a family of silversmiths, continuing a tradition of crafting the distinctive silver jewelry worn by Miao people.

Workshop 2 by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Wu Guozheng's Workshop, where exquisite silver jewelry are crafted. Many of the tools have been handed down for generations.

Work Area by the Entrance by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

When Wu Guozheng started his own business in 1991, he only had enough seed money to buy silver for making small objects like bracelets and earrings. With the growth in business, he started to make bigger ones such as crowns.

Wedging the Small Silver Pieces into the Welding Spot by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Wu Guozheng learned each of these processes from his father. As a child, he would help out in the family workshop after school, gradually learning all the techniques to become a master silversmith. His children learned the skills the same way.

Wu Guozheng's Father, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Wu Guozheng's father, the forth-generation old silversmith, is now retired and seldom makes silver jewelries.

Wu Guozheng's Father Helping him to Clean the Silver Pieces, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Though he sometimes helps his son do small tasks such as cleaning the finished pieces.

Fabricating the Silver Board by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

The Art of Craftsmanship

There are more than a dozen different processes  that go into the making of Miao silver jewelry.

Fabricating Silver Wires, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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First, the silversmith processes silver ingots into strips, wire and plates.

Silver Wires, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Hammering the Silver Plate in the Mode 1, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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The silver is then hammered in a mold.

Molds, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Molds

Fixing the Silver Plate to the Table, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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After molding, the silver plate is affixed to the work bench, smaller tools are used to engrave finer patterns onto the molded plate.

Engraving the Silver Plate 4, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Then use smaller tools to engrave the silver plate with more details.

Engraving the Silver Plate 2, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Silver Pieces Waiting to be Weld Together, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Pieces waiting to be weld together

Pushing Two Pieces Together by Small Hooks 2, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Welding, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Plates made from 99% silver are soldered together using strips of less pure silver (70%-80%).

Burning the Silver Bracelet with Torch Fire, Zhang Te, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Even after a piece of jewelry has been made, it still must be polished. To do this, the silversmith heats the silver with a blow torch until it is glowing hot.

Taking out the Silver Jewelry from the Acid Solution, Zhang Te, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Then quenches the hot metal in an acid bath, and repeating the process twice.

Cleaning, Zhang Te, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
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Wash off the acid with brush and water, once it has been dried, the finished product will exemplify the skill of the craftsman.

Customer Choosing Silver Phoenix by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Customers who admire Wu Guozheng's craftsmanship usually come to his house to make purchases. Besides, every six days, Wu attends the county fair and sell his work there among other silversmiths. He engraves his name on each piece of his work as the hallmark not only for the purity of the silver but also for life-time quality guarantee. As long as the future generations are still in the business, this hallmark will be recognized.

Weighing the Silver Necklace with Electronic Balance by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Wu Guozheng says that silversmithing paid for his son and daughter's educations. Thought they have both found jobs in the city, they haven't abandoned this family heritage. They make silver jewelries in their spare time and sell them online, distributing the Wu family's craftsmanship all over the country.

Credits: Story

In Collaboration with Riverbend Academy of Hmongology, Guizhou, China

--- Exhibition Crew ---

Culture Consultants: Yang Peide, An Hong
Project Coordinator: Cecilia Xiong
Exhibition Curator: Lin Wen (linwen@muc.edu.cn)
Chief Photographer: Austin Kramer
Other Photographers: Huang Xiaohai, Shi Kaibao, Lin Wen
Content Writer: Lin Wen
Translator: Austin Kramer, Li Yi, Liu Qing, Lin Wen
Proofreader: Austin Kramer
Video Clip Editor: Lin Wen

--- Mini Documentary Film Crew ---

Director: Lu Ying
Assistant Director: Zhang Te
Video Photographer: Zhi Yuehui, Zhang Te, Ji Xiang
Film Editor: Lu Ying, Zhi Yuehui, Suiwu Changjun
Script Writer: Yang Peide
Script Editor: Lin Wen
Color Adjust: Zhong Rujie, Zhi Yuehui
Music: Audio Jungle
Recording: Chenguang Recording Studio

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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