Miao Embroidery

Qiandongnan, Guizhou
Editing: Jackson Harvey
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11265; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]

Miao embroidery is a distinctive art of the Miao people, who are one of the larger ethnic populations in China. They also live in neighboring countries as well as in the United States and Australia where they are more generally known as the Hmong. In China, they are mostly concentrated in Guizhou Province in the southwest where subgroups are identified by their dress and embroidery motifs, such as “Big Flower Miao” and “Small Flower Miao.” Because the Miao people do not have their own written language, their embroideries often take the role of documenting their history and culture. Their embroideries reflect their world view, values, history, religions, and the social changes they have experienced over the centuries. Working with silk and cotton thread, as well as with horsehair, embroiderers adorn cuffs, sleeves, collars, and tunic fronts with designs of mythical animals (dragons and phoenixes) and ordinary insects, fish, and flowers. Vibrant colors—such as scarlet, pink, purple, dark blue, and bottle green—are frequently used.

Questions for Discussion

  • Watch the video and look up additional examples of Miao embroidery online. What colors, patterns, and symbols stand out to you?
  • Research the history of Miao (or Hmong) people in the United States.
  • Miao embroidery is often used to record history and tell stories. Choose an important event that has taken place in your lifetime, and draw a sketch of how you would show this event visually.