Exploring the Ornate Beauty of the Miao Ethnicity

Lin Shao, contributing writer

Painting a picture of ancient tradition with precisely pleated skirts, flashes of ornate silver jewelry, and delicate embroidery, the ethnic dance “In a Miao Village” is, for many, among the most memorable and delightful pieces of ethnic dance in Shen Yun’s repertoire. But, who exactly were the Miao, and what is their story?

With the earliest records discovered dating back to the 3rd century BC (the Qin Dynasty), the Miao are one of China’s oldest ethnic groups. At that time, the Miao would have lived near the middle reaches of the Yangtze River. Today, the group is mostly found in central and southwest China, a picturesque region known for its tropical abundance.

Through the centuries, the Miao diversified into over 100 groups, each with its own unique customs, traditional dress, and unique dance style. Particularly among the Miao women, costumes hold a cherished place in the culture. In ancient times, Miao women wore bold and contrasting colors: red, black, white, yellows, and blues. The Miao actually have more than 100 different styles of ethnic apparel and each woman would have created her own costume by hand, using batik dyeing (a traditional method which requires repeatedly waxing and dyeing), embroidery, and brocade. Each costume was essentially a piece of wearable history, with patterns featuring flowers, mountains, birds, city walls, as well as mythical beings like dragons and phoenixes.

A Symbol of Honor

Imagine the rhythm of countless jingling necklaces and bracelets, with bells and charms ringing through the air. Generation after generation, Miao maidens would have been adorned from head to toe with layers of this beautifully elaborate (and heavy!) silver jewelry that also served as a hallmark of social status and prosperity.

The silver crown is the Miao maidens’ most treasured item, and it has a particularly touching story behind it. Legend has it that when the Miao’s ancient city of origin was under attack, most of the Miao people were able to escape, but the invaders were in pursuit of the Miao King, who wore a silver crown. So, the Queen volunteered to wear the crown herself, diverting the enemy from the King and sacrificing herself to preserve the future of her people. Ever since, the Miao have commemorated their Queen by having their maidens wear a silver headpiece in the shape of the crown.

Inspired by the enduring traditions of the Miao, and the Shen Yun dance “In a Miao Village,” we are delighted to introduce our new scarf design, which pays homage to the Miao silver crown and features all the fine detail and joyful colors from the Shen Yun costumes. You can now browse our scarf designs and purchase one from our online store.

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