Ethnic resources boost rural revitalization
By Lu Jiajun  ·  2024-04-10  ·   Source: China Today


Shi Jia (right) is picking tea leaves with a girl in the tea fields.

“Compared with other embroidery styles, the Miao embroidery focuses on vivid expression. At the beginning, it was used to record big events in place of writing, and distinguish tribes by different totems. Its color is brighter, and the design is simpler. There are also many auspicious patterns to pray for good luck,” Shi Jia, a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and president of a Miao clothing company, told China Today.

Shi is a native Miao woman born in the 1980s, who comes from Shilan Town, Huayuan County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Hunan Province. In 2021, she won the national award for female role models. Then, in early 2023, she founded a poverty alleviation project supported by Miao embroidery, which was selected by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the National Rural Revitalization Administration, as a recognized project of intangible cultural heritage in 2022.

Since establishing her own business in her hometown in 2017, Shi has been committed to exploring the local ethnic resources to drive the rapid development of related industries, so as to make more contributions to rural revitalization.


Shi Jia (left) is making Miao embroidery products with an elderly woman.

Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation

Before returning to her hometown, Shi ran an engineering company in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. After a visit to her family, she decided to give up her well-paid job in the big city and return to Shilan Town to start a business. “What motivated me was the demographics in my hometown. At that time, of the 19,000 people in the town more than 1,200 were left-behind children whose parents had gone to seek job opportunities in bigger towns and cities,” said Shi.

In order to generate employment in Shilan so that the mothers of these children could return, Shi decided to use the local intangible cultural heritage Miao embroidery to develop related industries. In 2017, she founded a Miao clothing company and established a workshop.

“On the first day of our opening, over 400 people came and quickly filled the entire courtyard. I was so surprised, as I didn’t usually see so many people in rural areas except during major events. The sight made me realize that the villagers really hoped to find work in their communities,” Shi told China Today.

Shi hired inheritors of the ancient skill to provide technical training for registered women, and paid each of them RMB 5,400 per for three months. After the training, the women could sign a contract with Shi’s company. They could then choose to work from home or in the workshop.

Currently, the project has provided paid training for 1,926 rural women, recruited 367 low-income people for employment, and helped more than 3,000 people to engage in related industries, of which 75 percent are women. More than 300 mothers of left-behind children have returned to their hometown to find employment.

Among the many embroiderers, Long Yuzhi has left a deep impression on Shi. Long is a hearing-impaired mother of three children, and her husband is mentally challenged. At first, Long was very introverted and unwilling to communicate with others. During training, she gradually became more outgoing and improved her embroidery skills. Shi assigned an order for former British Prime Minister David Cameron to Long. Due to Long’s hearing impairment, Shi always gives her a thumbs up sign to tell her she is doing great. “I want them to know that they are not just workers, but also respected craftswomen with unique skills,” Shi told China Today.

As the team of embroiderers continued to grow, Shi also invested in a team of designers. Through visiting museums, reviewing ancient books, and gathering work created by local women, they collected numerous traditional Miao embroidery patterns and established a database. Then they applied the patterns to designs of clothing, accessories, soft furnishings, luggage, fans, and other products. In this way, over 300 types of cultural and creative products with local characteristics have sold well at home and abroad, increasing the revenues of the workshop and the popularity of Miao embroidery.

At present, the traditional handicraft of Miao embroidery has been transformed into an economy via the nimble fingers of women. Shi has also established five flagship stores to sell embroidery products in Beijing, Shandong Province, and Hunan Province, with an annual sales revenue of about RMB 10 million. At the same time, the workshop has also opened online shops, guiding the women how to sell products by live-streaming and promote Miao embroidery.

In addition to the domestic market, Shi also promoted Miao embroidery on the international stage. Through exchange activities, the embroidery products not only appeared in the world intangible heritage exhibitions, but were also bought by many foreign dignitaries and celebrities. In June 2018, designers of the luxury brand Hermes designed 12 sets of fashionable dresses with Miao embroidery elements, which then were handmade by local embroiders and appeared on the runway of a fashion show in Bordeaux, France.


A group of women are making Miao embroidery in Shilan Town, Huayuan County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. Photos courtesy of Shi Jia

Developing Local Industries

In order to expand sales and increase the income of local women, in addition to the Miao embroidery products, Shi entered the tea industry in 2019. Tailored to local conditions, she called on the villagers to establish a tea planting cooperative and combine Miao embroidery with tea to launch unique products. Today, the tea plantation covers an area of 120.4 hectares. More than 1,000 local women are engaged in planting and picking tea during farming seasons, while embroidering and taking care of their children in their leisure time. Their monthly income, consisting of wages from Miao embroidery, tea gardens, land transfer fees, and village collective dividends, averages nearly RMB 4,000.

Shi hopes that through her and the team’s efforts, the traditional skill of Miao embroidery returns to people’s lives and promotes the development of other characteristic industries that are suitable for local conditions. This not only allows villagers to live a better life, but also attracts more tourists and opens up a larger market.

In her next five-year plan, Shi will launch a cultural tourism service. She plans to facilitate homestays and build other infrastructure to establish a complete industrial chain combining agriculture, culture, and tourism in her hometown. “Intangible cultural heritage is a fulcrum that can drive the development of more industries through cultural attraction, thereby playing a greater role in promoting rural revitalization,” she said.

Meanwhile, driven by the need to launch industries in rural areas, she proposed the development of ethnic medicine resources at this year’s “Two Sessions,” an area that she has a great interest in. The Wuling Mountain area covers 71 counties and districts in southern Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, and Chongqing. According to Shi, it has an abundance of resources used in Tujia and Miao ethnic medicine, which has huge potential for industrial development. Facing problems such as an incomplete system and insufficient innovation, she suggests that relevant departments can provide policies and financial support to build regional medicine distribution and trading centers, regional ethnic medical centers, R&D and incubation centers, and high-level health bases, so that the ethnic medicine resources can benefit more local people and help the high-quality development of the ethnic medicine industry in the area.

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