Cultural Diversity of China

Handmade Silk Knotted-Pile Tapestry Depicting the Ethnic Groups of China

By Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

This exquisite silk tapestry is hanged in the entrance hall of the Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China, greets visitors from all over the world.

Hand Made Silk Tapestry of Ethnic Groups of China by Liu BingjiangMuseum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

About the Tapestry

This silk tapestry is based on a painting by professor Liu Bingjiang from the School of Fine Arts, at the Minzu University of China. The Boyi Silk Tapestry Co.Ltd in Rugao, Jiangsu province wove this tapestry using a revival of traditional methods and materials. This tapestry is 8 meters in length and 2.8 meters in height, and depicts 61 people representing the 56 ethnic groups in modern China, showing the great cultural diversity of the country. The weavers used strands of silk in 130 different colors to spin over a thousand different shades of silk thread creating a lifelike spectrum out of silk. 6,500,000 knots were hand-tied by the weavers to produce this tapestry. As an example of a once-lost art, the difficulty of the painstaking technique, the complex artistic composition, and the extraordinary number of colors make the tapestry one of a kind.

About the Craft

The craft of producing silk tapestries in China dates back over 2,000 years. Silk tapestries were an important element of the décor in Tang dynasty palaces, and were offered as tributes to the imperial families of subsequent dynasties until the art was lost in the early 20th century. After 1958, weavers in the cities of Rugao, Jiangsu and Zhuozhou, Hebei revived traditional techniques once thought to be lost.

Hand-knotted tapestries and carpets are crafted using the knotted-pile technique. The base of the tapestry (called the weft board) is sturdy and the back is wear-resistant. The front is elastic and firm. These products are usually made from wool or other animal hair, while silk can be used for fine silk tapestries and carpets. When handweaving a tapestry, the craftsman knots individuals piles by hand, different from the unknotted vertical flocking used in mechanical methods.

The inner structure is a double-warp and double-weft network. During weaving, the front and back warp threads form the warp piles and are used to make knots in the shape of the number "8". Then, these knots are then cut off with a knife. This process is called Shuantou (拴头), which means head binding. Along the weft, the warp piles are tied one-by-one from left to right. After one layer is completed, a single course weft is passed between the front and back warps and flattened out using a special knife. Next, a fine, curved weft is passed through the outer edge of the front and back warps and tamped down. Finally, the piles are trimmed with shears. This method is used to complete the entire tapestry or carpet.

Figures of the First Row

14 figures: Buyi, Yi, Dong/Kam, Zhuang, Miao(2), Mongol, Tajiks, Uygur(2), Chaoxian/Korean, Uzbeks, Lisu, Oroqen

Approximate Population: Buyi (2,870,000), Yi(8,710,000), Dong/Kam (2,880,000)

Approximate Population: Zhuang (16,930,000), Miao(9,430,000), Mongol(5,980,000)

Approximate Population: Tajiks (50,000), Uygur (10,070,000)

Approximate Population: Chaoxian/Korean (1,830,000), Uzbeks(10,000), Lisu (700,000), Oroqen (8,700)

Figures of the Second Row

25 figures: Gelao, Jingpo, Bulang, Yao, Hani, Bai, Li, De'ang, Naxi, Wa, Dai, Manchu, Hui, Han, Tibetan(2), Kazakh, Tatar, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Gaoshan, Dulong, Shui(2), Lahu

Approximate Population: Gelao (about 550,000), Jingpo (150,000), Bulang (120,000), Yao (2,800,000)

Approximate Population: Hani (1,660,000), Bai (1,930,000), Li (1,460,000)

Approximate Population: De'ang (20,000), Naxi (330,000, Wa (430,000, Dai (1,260,000)

Approximate Population: Manchu (10,390,000), Hui (10,590,000), Han (1220,000,000), Tibetan(6,280,000)

Approximate Population: Kazakh (1,460,000), Tatar (3,500), Tajiks (50,000), Kyrgyz (190,000)

Approximate Population: Gaoshan (460,000 in total, 4,000 in Mainland China), Dulong (7,000), Shui (410,000), Lahu (490,000)

Figures of the Third Row

17 figures: Qiang, Tu, Pumi, Tujia, Lhoba, Menba, Xibo, Maonan, Evenk, Russian, Hezhe, Jinuo, Sala, Dongxiang, Jing, She, Daur

Approximate Population: Qiang (310,000), Tu (290,000), Pumi (40,000)

Approximate Population: Tujia (8,350,000), Lhoba (3,700), Menba (10,000)

Approximate Population: Xibo (190,000), Maonan (100,000), Evenk (30,000), Russian (15,000)

Approximate Population: Hezhe (5,300), Jinuo (20,000), Sala (130,000), Dongxiang (620,000)

Approximate Population: Jing (30,000), She (710,000), Daur (130,000)

Figures of the Fourth Row

5 figures: Nu, Achang, Mulao, Bao'an, Yughur

Approximate Population: Nu (40,000), Achang (40,000)

Approximate Population: Mulao (220,000), Bao'an (20,000), Yughur (14,000)

Credits: Story

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

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