Chinese Ethnic Minority Satchels – Part One

China has 56 ethnic groups distributed across a vast land of 9.6 million square km — each with its own special costumes. However, most Chinese ethnic minorities share the custom of wearing satchels. As a part of their costumes, satchels display different living habits and the craftsmanship of these groups.

Dai Ethnic Minority

340The satchel, called the “Tong pa” in the Dai language, is a practical craftwork adored by the Dai people, for both women and men, young and old. During country fairs, nearly all Dai fellows in the marketplace wear a satchel. The elderly use satchels to hold cigarettes, betel nuts and some sundries, while the young wear them mostly for decorative purposes or to send it to their loved ones. A small bag is usually installed in an interlayer in the satchel to store cash and other valuables.

Satchels worn by the Dai people are mainly made of cotton-woven Dai brocade and feature beautiful hues and rich patterns. Common patterns include auspicious shapes, such as elephant feet, tortoise shells, bats and so on; realistic ones, such as patterns of peacocks, bajiao banana flowers, horses, legendary animals, golden pheasants, lotuses, butterflies and so on; as well as signs, such as auspicious characters and religious symbols. These patterns are not only decorative but also express good wishes.

Miao Ethnic Minority

341The Miao people have been famous for their accomplishments in weaving the “five-color cloth” since ancient times and for the Miao brocade and wax printing. The Miao ethnic minority inYunnan Province comprises many groups and is distinguished by its costumes, such as the Red Miao, White Miao, Black Miao, Blue Miao, Big Flowery Miao, etc. Satchels, as an attachment to costumes, should complement the costumes. Therefore, different groups of the Miao people wear satchels of various styles.

The Miao culture and history have been passed down by word of mouth or symbols. As an artistic language of symbols, the patterns on Miao brocades contain many traditional contents from the ethnic minority and recite numerous legends, tales and ancient stories. Therefore, just like costumes of the Miao people, their satchels not only feature a distinctive aesthetic significance, but also carry rich cultural connotations.

Zhuang Ethnic Minority

342Folk brocade of the Zhuang people has been famous for a long time and their embroidery is also very unique. One can experience the Zhuang people’s deft embroidery skills from their satchels.

“Nine Dragon s playing with a Ball” is a common subject in the Zhuang brocade patterns. Other brocade patterns on satchels include butterflies, bats, the sun and the moon, flowers and other auspicious elements.


by Xiao Xiao

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