Four Famous Embroideries of China
Embroidery as a Chinese handicraft has long been an important facet of traditional Chinese arts and crafts. China's most famous works of embroidery come from Suzhou (abbr. Su), Hunan (abbr. Xiang), Sichuan (abbr. Shu) and Guangdong (abbr. Yue). Embroidery as a folk art is imbued with the distinct characteristics of its locality. As an art form it features exquisite craftsmanship, immaculate execution and strong aesthetic appeal.
Xiang (Hunan) Embroidery comes from areas centered on Changsha, capital of Hunan Province. Xiang embroidery is well known for its time-honored history, excellent craftsmanship and unique style. The earliest piece of Xiang embroidery was unearthed at the No 1 Tomb of Mawangdui, Changsha City of the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). The weaving technique was almost the same as the one used in modern times, which demonstrated that embroidery had already existed in the Han Dynasty. In its later development, Xiang Embroidery absorbed the characteristics of traditional Chinese paintings and formed its own unique characteristics. Xiang embroidery experienced its heyday at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and in the early Republic of China (early 20th century), even surpassing Su embroidery. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Xiang embroidery was further improved and developed to a new level. Xiang embroidery uses pure silk, hard satin, soft satin and nylon as its material, which is connected with colorful silk threads. Absorbing the spirit of Chinese paintings, the embroidery reaches a high artistic level. Xiang embroidery crafts include valuable works of art, as well as materials for daily use.
Su embroidery is one of the most famous China embroidery. It produced in Jiang-Zhe (Jiangsu and Zhejiang Province) region, especially in Suzhou area. The craft, which dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), became a sideline of people in the Suzhou area during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Well known for its smoothness and delicateness, Su embroidery won Suzhou the title City of Embroidery in the Qing Dynasty. In the mid and late Qing, Su embroidery experienced further developments involved works of double-sided embroidering. There were 65 embroidery stores in Suzhou City. During the Republic of China period (1912-1949), the Su embroidery industry was in decline due to frequent wars and it was restored and regenerated after the founding of new China. In 1950, the central government set up research centers for Su embroidery and launched training courses for the study of embroidery. Weaving methods have climbed from 18 to the present 40.
Su embroidery features a strong, folk flavor and its weaving techniques are characterized by the following: the product surface must be flat, the rim must be neat, the needle must be thin, the lines must be dense, the color must be harmonious and bright and the picture must be even. Su embroidery products fall into three major categories: costumes, decorations for halls and crafts for daily use, which integrate decorative and practical values. Double-sided embroidery is an excellent representative of Su embroidery.
Shu (Sichuan) Embroidery comes from areas centered on Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. Its raw materials are satin and colored silk, its craftsmanship painstaking and refined. The emphasis is on even stitching, delicate coloration, and local flavor. Sichuan embroidery is used to decorate quilt covers, pillowcases, garments, shoes and painted screens.
Yue (Guangdong or Guang) Embroidery includes that crafted in Chaozhou. There is a history: In 805 (Tang Dynasty (618-907), a pretty girl named Lu Meiniang embroidered the Fahua Dogma(a kind of Buddhism) on a short piece of thin silk, and then, Guangdong embroidery rose in China. In Song Dynasty, it began to be exported, and during the Qing Dynasty, people or animal hair as the raw material, which made the works more vivid. Yue embroidery ,in Guangdong Province, now is classified into tow kinds: Guang embroidery(Guangzhou, Zhongshan, Panyu and Shunde)and Chao embroidery(Chaozhou, Shantou）.Yue embroidery mainly selects patterns of flowers and birds formations, such as dragons and phoenixes. Now the famous technologist of Yue embroidery is Shaofang Chen (see the following works). Her works have been highly praised or treasured up by collectors from different countries or areas.