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Craft Number: 8

Name: Bark Cloth Making Techniques of Li Nationality

Category: Art, handicraft and traditional technique

Country: China

Area: Hainan Province (Hainan Island)

Ethnic group/tribe/clan: Li Nationality

General origin and history of the practice: In Pei Zhou’s Dong Guan Han Ji (Historical records about the Eastern Han Dynasty), it has been recorded that people started using bark cloth to make hats in Han dynasty, and at that time, the ethnic minorities in border areas also used it to make clothes and bedding. In Song dynasty, Yue Shi wrote in the entry Qiongzhou, Volume 169 of Taiping Huanyu Ji (Geographical records in the period of Songtaizong, the first emperor of Song dynasty), “People, who live in eastern China, don’t have city walls, speak an unknown language unless translated, have no idea about law and etiquette, and need to be conquered with power. They claim to be Shengli, live on trees or in deep caves, make clothes with bark cloth and blankets with silk cotton.” In Ming dynasty, Li Shizhen wrote in Compendium of Materia Medica, “People in Wuling make clothes with paper mulberry bark cloth, which are tough.” In Qing dynasty, Zhang Qingchang wrote in Li Qi Ji Wen (Records on Li Nationality), “During bitter winters, the Li people collect these barks and beat them until soft, and then wear them to cover themselves. At night, they use them as bedding. These products are named in this way: the tree’s name plus bark cloth.” In Qing dynasty, Gu Yanwu wrote in Tian Xia Jun Guo Li Bing Shu Guangdong (On benefits and faults of the empire's local administration), “The Li people’s short clothes, named Litong, are in all likelihood made of bark cloth.” In Qing dynasty, it was also elaborated in Picture of Li Nationality in Qiongzhou: spinning, “The Li people are not so good at silk-making from mulberry-feeding silkworms. They only grow silk cotton trees which flower in spring and yield fruits in summer. The Li women will pick those fruits and take the cotton out of them, twist the cotton into threads with hands and feet, dye them with colours, and then spin and weave them into cotton cloth.” All of these recordings reflect the real conditions of the Li ancestors using bark cloth.

Gender of practitioners: Male

Age range of practitioners: 6 to over

Transmitters: Huang Yunying

Type/form, raw materials or alphabet:

Manufacturing techniques, numbers and colours or the purpose of the craft: The process is as follows:1, peeling;2, trimming;3, immersing barks in water to be de gummed; 4, rinsing; 5, drying; 6,beating barks into pieces before the white bark cloth is produced. Sewing is the last procedure: cut the processed dark cloth to make hats, pillows, quilts, clothes, skirts, loincloth, bags and other items for daily use.

Tools used, pronouncement of keywords or the time of the performance:

Design and decoration, associated costume, materials or instruments used: Use dark cloth to make sheets, waistbands, hats, pillows, quilts, clothes, skirts, loincloth, bags and other items for daily use.

Audience:

Mode/scale/tonality: Stone bat, wooden bat, chopper etc.

Range/number of performers:

Meaning: Bark cloth, the main raw material used for clothes in the south of ancient China, plays an important role in the history of textile science and technology in ancient China. It has provided a “living” material object and production procedures for the research of China’s ancient textile crafts and skills.

Significance: Archaeological and historical values: Bark cloth is very difficult to find in archaeological excavation (As an organic compound, it is hard to preserve with the passage of time). This is the limitation of archaeological materials in academic studies. Stone bat, as a cultural relic, cannot “talk”, and it is a kind of “dead fossil”. It is hard to tell the craft conditions of bark cloth based on these data. That’s exactly why we need to refer to the relevant information of the ethnology on the “living fossil”.

Composer or accompanying music:

Any relevant information: Stone bat, also called stone stick or stone beating stick, is a distinctive relic in the archaeology of Hainan Island. According to the research of such scholars as Ling Chunsheng from Taiwan and Deng Cong from Hong Kong, stone bat is a beating instrument which is used for bark cloth production. It can be divided into two types by different production methods and handles: one is the compound type, a stone bat equipped with a wooden handle. Another is the stick-type, a bat made of one piece of stone including the handle, which can be used directly by holding its connected handle. All the stone bats currently found in Hainan are stick-type. Stick-type bats were made and used before the compound bats. A wooden hammer additionally constitutes an instrument used in bark cloth production. After the Li ancestors learned how to use the raw materials of textile and mastered cotton manufacturing techniques, “bark cloth” didn’t give way to flax and cotton products completely. People still used barks of paper mulberry to make sheets, waistbands, hats, pillows, quilts, clothes, skirts, loincloth, bags and other items for daily use since barks are easy to get, produce and maintain, and they are also important materials for production and subsistence.

Previous research: In 1960s, Ling Chunsheng, a scholar from Taiwan, pointed in his paper Inventions of bark cloth, stamped pottery, papermaking and printing, “The culture of bark cloth originated early in China, which can be traced back to the Stone Age. It coexisted with stamped pottery, earlier than flax and cotton products. If the stone stick which is used for beating bark cloth can be found in prehistoric archaeology, then the culture of bark cloth distributed in the whole Pacific region…” His judgement verified the archaeological discoveries among China’s southern regions in recent years. According to the research of such scholars as Ling Chunsheng from Taiwan and Deng Cong from Hong Kong, stone bat is a beating instrument which is used for bark cloth production. It can be divided into two types by different production methods and handles: one is the compound type, a stone bat equipped with a wooden handle. Another is the stick-type, a bat made of one piece of stone including the handle, which can be used directly by holding its connected handle. All the stone bats currently found in Hainan are stick-type. Stick-type bats were made and used before the compound bats. A wooden hammer additionally constitutes an instrument used in bark cloth production.

Listed/designated: Listed in State-level Intangible Cultural Heritage Catalog in 2006

Threats or risks: Due to the social development of Li Nationality and the funeral reform advocated by the new Chinese government established in 1949, the original funeral customs of Li Nationality in rural areas, including the custom of Cutting Firewood Dance (also called “Jumping over Bamboo Poles”), were reformed and simplified greatly in 1950s. To this day, there is only one village (Langdian village, in Yacheng town, Sanya city) in the whole province that still keeps the custom of Cutting Firewood Dance. If the funeral customs in Langdian village are also reformed, there will be no Cutting Firewood Dance, which is the original ecological type among the Li people.

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