Journal 07. Inspirational portraits #2 : Yang Yi paying tribute to the wisdom of her ancestors

2021, 4th April. Qingming 清明

The Qingming festival symbolizes the revival of all things in Nature and also expresses the Chinese people’s deepest feelings of respect and dedication to their ancestors. This unbroken connection between humans and their ancestry will lead some people to recall and honor the legacy of their ancestors. The transmission and revival of their ancestors’ wisdom and know-hows will become their leitmotiv in life: that is the story of the Dong indigenous artisan we love; her name is Yang Yi (woman on the left on the first picture).

In Rongjiang County, Guizhou Province, there are thousands of Dong families living in Zhaitou, a village with more than 800 years of history. The Zhaihao River flows quietly at the edge of the village, and many 500-years-old banyan trees along the river are still flourishing. These trees have witnessed the prosperity of the village in the past. Because of the river frontage and convenient transportation, Zhaitou Village was once known as a dock for ships. The women of each Dong family in the village were highly skilled in weaving, and they loaded the woven fabrics onto boats and shipped them to the surrounding towns for trade.

Dong women preparing the threads for the traditional weaving on loom in Zhaitou

Yang Yi was born in this village with a long tradition of weaving. Her ancestors opened the largest fabric farm in Zhaitou village, purchasing the handmade fabrics produced by the village weavers and shipping it to the big towns for sale. In Yang Yi’s home, the old ancestral house is still preserved. The hall is dedicated to the portraits and names of her ancestors, and the family’s prosperity can still be felt through those photos. 

Yang Yi family house in Zhaitou village

Yang Yi had left her hometown to work in Shenzhen in the early years. Whenever she returned to Zhaitou Village, she found that many old people still insisted on spinning and weaving every day, including her grandmother and mother. Despite the fabrics could not be sold as easily as before, their daily rhythm of work had not changed because weaving is an inseparable part of their lives. This scene touched Yang Yi’s heart so deeply, so she wanted to revive the business of her ancestors who had been running the fabric farm for generations. Yang Yi named it“一家布庄yijia buzhuang”, “The whole family fabric village”, meaning that the weavers of the village are like a family. Then, she selected twenty artisans with high-weaving skills from several families of the village to compose her workshop. Each artisan is very grateful for Yang Yi benevolence to help them to get rid of poverty, while preserving their heritage.

Dong traditional loom

The handmade fabrics of the Dong people are very sophisticated and full of wisdom in the details. Each time we appreciate and wear these handmade fabrics, it is so important to remember the warm stories and ancestry behind it. In the beautiful patterns are poured the deep expectations of the artisans, their hard work day and night, reproducing their ancestors’ gesture. The artisans of Zhaitou Village have high hopes for Yang Yi’s fabric farm and we are so happy to know that young people are starting to join the team of weavers now. It gives Yang Yi hope for the future. She is also becoming more and more convinced that her business has extraordinary significance. Passing on the flame, she feels that what she has already accomplished should make her ancestors feel grateful and peaceful, and it makes her feel proud.

In the upcoming series of portraits on our blog, we will have the opportunity to introduce to you other people with an extraordinary destiny that offer us a new regard on China. Stay tuned! 

The Dong weavers

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