Wedding Dresses of Chinese Ethnic Minorities

Written by Sabrina Bennis


China is home to 56 different ethnic groups, giving place to a great variety of different wedding customs and rituals. Although nowadays it is frequent that couples decide to wear modern Western wedding clothes, many preserve their tradition and cultural background. Let us look at some of the most beautiful wedding gowns of five Chinese ethnic minorities.

The Miao

The main feature of the Miao’s wedding attire is the finely embroidered dress and the intricate silver ornaments.  Embroidery is a traditional Miao skill that girls are taught by their mothers since a young age. The first work of embroidery that a girl undertakes, at the age of seven or eight, is her wedding dress, which she will finish the day of her marriage. In the Miao culture, the ability of a woman to produce beautiful embroidery is as important a marriageable asset.

 miao 3

The bride’s finely embroidered wedding dress is complemented by silver jewelry. It is comprised of silver tiara hairpins, combs and earrings, a silver collar and chains, silver chaplets and necklaces, as well as rings and bangles worn on the wrist and the ankles. Parents start collecting silver jewelry for their daughter’s wedding as infants. On the day she gets married, a Miao woman can wear up to 10 kg of exquisitely fashioned silver. The more the merrier, as these ornaments are not only a symbol of feminine beauty but also a sign of social status representing the bride’s family wealth.


The Hmong

The Hmong people are a sub-group of the Miao ethnic group. Wedding attires of this minority are very colorful and are usually made of pleated batik with appliqué decorations. Women typically wear a skirt and a jacket, both of which are covered with an apron that is worn in front of them and tied at the back. The jacket and the apron are decorated with multicolored beads. The bride also wears a big embroidered headdress that is also adorned with colorful beads hanging from it.

 hmong 2hmong


The Qiang

 The Qiang people mainly live in mountainous regions in the northwestern part of Sichuan province. The female wedding attire is an ankle-long red dress and an apron tied around the waist. Embroidery has a deep cultural value for the Qiang people, and just as it is the case with the Miao, women get taught this skill from a young age. Therefore, the wedding dresses are decorated with rich embroidery, usually flowery patterns. The colors most used are red, blue, yellow, green, and pink.

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Brides also wear a vertically-inclined embroidered headdress with plum blossom ornamentation. Qiang people wear YunYun shoes, a kind of handmade cloth shoe that has the shape of a boat and has cloud pattern on it.


The Bai

Just as in the Western culture, Bai brides wear white at their wedding.  However, instead of a long dress, they wear a top and pants. White is the favorite color of this ethnic minority, representing dignity and a high social status. The other dominant color of the Bai wedding attire is red. Over these garments, Bai women wear a delicate and finely embroidered waistcoat and apron, which tend to be red, green, light blue and rose; and are adorned with camellia flowers because they are believed to symbolize beauty.


Depending on the area, Bai women also wear charming headdresses that nicely match with their clothes. Although the traditional Bai wedding attire has some colorful touches, it maintains a simple yet elegant style.



The Mongols

Mongolian couples wear traditional clothing called Del which is made from cotton and silk with patterns. Typically, the groom wears dark colored Del and the bride lighter colors such as red and pink. The female tunic is long-sleeved and is decorated with intricate appliqué brocade.


Brides also wear elaborated traditional jewelry around their neck and hanging from their hair. Gemstones and semi-precious stones such as Turquoise and Sapphires are favorites of the Mongolian people. A headdress is worn by both the groom and the bride, but its shape and adornments vary from place to place.



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Mongolian Jewelry

Elaborately detailed filigree and brilliantly colored enamels are the signatures of Mongolian jewelry making. This traditional technique has distinctive Russian and Chinese influences and follows a process that has remained unchanged for generations.

Mongolian Jewelry Making

549The filigree work is typically hand-fashioned with tweezers using silver wires which are shaped into flowers, butterflies and other subjects. At approximately 1700 degrees F, the wire structure is then carefully fired in a kiln where they are fused together with silver dust. This first process provides the framework for the piece. Fine enamel powder is then blended and packed into the frame, and briefly fired in the kiln again several times at 1500 degrees F. During this second firing, the enamel fuses into a durable glasslike finish.

Finally, gemstones are set, and the piece is typically plated with 24KT gold. Stones such as Chrysocolla, Rhodocrosite, Chrysoprase, Water Sapphires and Black Star of India are favorites of Mongolian artisans. Semiprecious stones like Garnets, Lapis, Amethyst, Madeira Citrine, Onyx and Turquoise are also popular in traditional Mongolian designs.

The work is exacting and demanding, since working with any filigree frame could involve destruction of the fragile framework. The artists are all extensively trained in the basic techniques and over time are considered master craftsmen. Interestingly, because filigree and enameling are very different skills, many Mongolian jewelry items require two artists to complete. No one artist is trained in both procedures.

Many of the young people of the area are turning their backs on the old ways and going into urban areas of China to make lives for themselves. It is an endangered and dying art form and because of the sheer beauty and quality of the jewelry, several museums around the world are selling the works of art in their museum shops. They consider it a Chinese cultural treasure.

Caring for Filigree Jewelry:

Although it is sterling silver and very sturdy, it is made of hundreds of fine wires. The brilliant colors are achieved by the use of enamel powder, kiln-fired to create “glass”. Consequently, gentle care should be used with these unique pieces. Keep in a plastic bag with the air expelled to minimize oxidation. Clean with a liquid cleaner acceptable for use with pearls, lapis, turquoise or other porous stones.

Stunning Features of Miao Hmong Costume

445The most rich and colorful attire of the Miao Hmong people is found in the south of China. Every different branch of the Miao Hmong people brings with them a different kind of costume. Their designs range from the exquisitely gorgeous costumes of the Shidong area to the primitive and coarse ones of the Nandan area. These people are extremely talented in art, especially those living in the Guizhou province. Their embroidery works, batik and silver accessories are perfect examples of showing characteristics of Miao Hmong clothing art.


Sophisticated weaving, dyeing, batik, pleating, embroidery, appliqué, interlacing, and quilting techniques are used to produce the costumes and have evolved to exceptional artistry. Traditionally, these skills are passed down from mother to daughter. Making a set of traditional Miao clothes usually takes a Miao Hmong woman 1 to 2 years. Moreover, as hand-made Miao Hmong costumes are sewn individually by Miao women in their homes, there are hardly two costumes with the same style or pattern.


The materials used in Miao Hmong costumes are hemp, cotton, silk and natural dyestuffs, including indigo. The geographic location of the villages has a great bearing on the materials from which the garments are made. Cotton is produced in western Hunan and eastern Guizhou and is traditionally used in the making of clothes. Wool is produced in the cold highland areas of north-eastern Yunnan and is used for making warm clothes in that region. Flax is grown is Sichuan, western Guizhou and south-eastern Yunnan and so linen is used in the manufacture of clothes.


446Embroidery techniques are varied. Satin stitch and cross-stitch are widely used. In some areas, such as south-east Guizhou, girls also use braid or plaited stitch. The satin stitched is bright and smooth with delicate, clear patterns of animals and plants. The cross-stitch is done on the reverse side of the fabric, the patterns appearing on the obverse side or on both sides. And the braid stitch is done by plaiting silk thread into braids, folding it on cloth and then fixing it with thread. The patterns of this embroidery create a striking decorative effect.


447 Miao Hmong women are proficient in batik. Their colored batiks are renowned at home and abroad. The process is all manual and rather tedious, which involves drawing, waxing (with special wax knife using beeswax), dyeing and wax melting. This technique had been lost among Han Chinese but being kept very well by ethnic Miao Hmong. In fact, the United Nation (UN) reported that Miao Hmong costume is one of the world cultural relics, where batik plays a major role.

The motifs on batik are plain, naive, rough and powerful. Its shapes are boldly diversified and exaggeratedly drawn. Since Miao Hmong language do not have scripts, abstract symbols or totems are also commonly found.

Silver Ornaments

448 Silver ornaments make up an important part of Miao Hmong dress. Miao believe silver can dispel evil spirits and is also a symbol of wealth. Miao Hmong families dress up their daughters with silver ornaments for special occasions. Silver worn by young women sometimes weighs more than 10 kg, which makes the whole body sparkling and shinning.

The Miao Hmong silver ornaments include silver hat, silver horns, silver combs, silver earrings, ear pendants, neckbands, necklaces, collars, bracelets and rings. Most of them are handmade by Miao Hmong silversmiths. Skills and techniques employed are casting, hammering, plaiting, cutting flowers and carving lines. Patterns are mostly dragon, phoenix, horses, flowers and birds, lively and delicately exquisite.


by Xiao Xiao @

Chinese Ethnic Minority Satchels – Part Two

Yi Ethnic Satchels- Flowery Bags

Due to a large number of branches and the wide distribution of the Yi people, their costumes and varieties are the richest of all, featuring satchels of varied materials, patterns and decorations. Rough statistics show that Yi satchels fall into the following types:

Leather Bags

345They are generally made of soft cowhide or sheepskin, with some parts still covered in hair, giving the satchels a crude and clumsy appeal. In some places in Northwestern Yunnan, Yi people prefer to use chamois to make satchels, which look elegant and are very precious.

Grass and hemp satchels

346Some Yi people in Western Yunnan use a kind of wild grass to make clothing. The locally called “Huocao Grass” is known in Latin as Epilobium angustifolium. The procedure of this kind of cloth is quite complicated, so satchels made of this cloth are very precious and hardly available on the markets.

Satchels made of hemp are fairly common and durable. Stiff and durable, flaxen bags are masterpieces of ethnic satchels and they are the favorite of many tourists from home and abroad.

Cotton Bags

347Satchels made of cotton cloth boast the largest number in terms of pattern and type. Those made of relatively refined cotton cloth mostly feature embroidered patterns — mainly patterns of flowers and plants, human figures, animals, melons and fruit, as well as auspicious signs, bearing beautiful colors.


by Xiao Xiao

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

Tibetan Ornaments: Mystical Jewelry of Tibet

Tibetan ornaments are attractive with its complex patterns and special designs. Looking at Tibetan ornaments is like traveling back in time. The art itself has such a dreamlike effect. Tibetan ornaments seem to come with a little bit of the mysticism. Many of the Tibetan ornaments are worn for certain reasons and are believed to have the ability to bring the wearer good luck and success.


The materials convey special meaning. Tibetan people prefer to choose materials which represent lucks to make Tibetan ornaments.



In the view of Tibetan, yak is a holy animal which may carry good luck to their daily life. So the bone of yak is taken as the unique accessories. Tibetan people think they can get rid of misfortunes when carries this kind of ornaments.



Turquoise is one of the world’s earliest-used gem materials. It has been revered for thousands of years. The turquoise used in these ornaments can be of various types too. Tibetan people think turquoise will bring success and good luck when carries it with blue diamond. It is also the symbol of richness and health when wearing it alone.

Organic gems

Red coral and amber, pearls are called organic gems. They represent people’s high social status and may bring good luck and health to the wearer.


Coral is known to be used as a gem since prehistoric times. It is one of the seven treasures in Buddhist scriptures. Coral was thought to be a strong talisman against bleeding, evil spirits, and hurricanes. Its color ranges from white to red.


Amber is fossilized pine tree resin, maple tree resin and other trees’ resin, which is ancient and valuable, like an antique from history. Although amber’s use in adornment is probably as old as mankind itself, in recent times it has had a limited market. Mila, one kind of Amber, was discovered in only in Tibet China currently. The Mila is the most precious amber, which has a long history of more than 100,000,000 years. Nowadays, there is little resource for Mila mine. And most of the Mila ambers are collected by the Buddhist.

Himalayan Beads


In Tibetan language, the bead is called DZI which means happiness, power and wealth.


The designs of Tibetan ornaments mostly derive from religious beliefs and the lifestyle of Tibetan people. Each pattern or color of the ornament carries a special meaning. For example, many of the Tibetan silver bracelets are carved with the six-syllable mantra (“Om Mani Padme Hum”), which in Tibetan Buddhism is believed to have the ability to eliminate disease, prolong life and increase wealth. Some pendants are in the design of Vajra, which in Buddhism is a ritual instrument for subduing demons, believed to dispel all sins and bring people power, courage, and intelligence. Amulets are often silver or bronze small boxes inlaid with pearls or precious stones and are used to contain clay or metal images of Buddha, Tibetan pills, Buddhist paintings or photos of a living Buddha. Another example is Tibetan opals, which fall into 12 categories according to the number of cat’s-eyes one contains, each representing a particular meaning. For example, a one-eye opal represents brightness and wisdom, and a two-eye opal represents harmonious marital relationship and happy family life.


by Xiao Xiao

Elegant Miao Pleated Skirt

333Though made and worn by several China’s ethnic groups, the pleated skirt is most common in the Miao Hmong tribe. Difference in length of the skirt, number of the pleats and style of ornaments distinguish the skirts of one group from another.

Pleated skirt has hundreds or even thousands of pleats. There are colorful motifs and figures embroidered on it. Most Miao Hmong women wear it except women in western Hunan province, China. It is said that in ancient times, Miao Hmong women wore tubular skirts, but they changed to pleated skirts to differentiate from other nationalities.

A Legend about the Pleated Skirt

There’s a story about the pleated skirt in the central Guizhou province. In ancient times, Miao Hmong skirts and Han were of no difference. In order to distinguish them, a mother and daughter decided to make a special skirt to symbolize the Miao Hmong. They thought for a long time. Later they were inspired by the fungus, so they made a skirt based on the pleats of the fungus. The Miao girls saw it and all praised it. Then they all learned to sew pleated skirts. So pleated skirts spread all over the Miao Hmong villages and women in different groups of the Miao Hmong began to wear pleated skirts.

Kinds of Pleated Skirt

The Miao’s pleated skirts can be divided into three kinds by the length: long, medium and short. Long skirt reaches the instep, medium exceeds the knees and short reaches above the knees. The skirt worn by Miao Hmong women in Leishan is only 20 centimeters long and people call this group as Short Skirt Miao.

Making Process

336The pleated skirt is beautiful and artistic but complicated and time consuming to make. Fabric of 16 to 26 meters long is needed to make the skirt. The width of the fabric will dictate the length of the skirt. All skirts are “wrap around” style and have a narrow band that ties the skirt safely on the waist.

The fabric is first laid out on the grass or ground and sprayed with a sticky liquid of water thickened with rice paste. A board is placed under one end of the fabric to fasten the fabric. They then hand pleated the fabric. This pleating is very fast and only the skilled woman can keep the pleats even and identical.

The fabric is again sprayed with the water and rice paste mixture and the pleats are sewn together with thread to fix the patterns. This pleating process may take several days to complete. The fabric is then tied around a round wood to keep the pleats in place while the fabric is left to dry.

Next, the fabric is dyed, washed and dried. The process of dying, washing and drying is repeated many times to get the desired color. Dark purple and dark brown are popular colors.


After the dyeing process is complete, decorative strips are sewn to the bottom of the skirts, either embroidered band or handmade ribbons.


by Xiao Xiao @

Dazzling Miao Festival Costumes

Miao Hmong festival costumes are worn at festivals and sacrificial rituals or at weddings. The wedding dresses are also called “floral dresses”.

Miao Festival Costume Full of National Flavors

Blazing with colors, Miao Hmong festival clothes are full of nation flavors. Red, blue, yellow, white, and black are the main colors used in Miao Hmong clothing. The Miao Hmong people normally use white gunny, cotton or silk as fabric. The making of the festival costume include dyeing, wax printing and ingenuous embroidery. In addition, bright and shining silver ornaments are embedded in the dresses. With extraordinary silver ornaments, like big silver headdress, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings to match these clothes, Miao Hmong women proudly claim they are the most beautiful women in the world.

Motifs on the Festival Costumes

330The motifs on the festival costumes are mostly living creatures in real life. For example, the “Miao Hundred Bird Jacket”, originally worn on major ceremonies to worship ancestors, is now festival attire. The jacket is big and loose with no collar. Hundred of birds and dragons are embroidered on the jacket. It is made with 7 to 10 strips of bands of embroidered motifs of frogs, dragons, birds, butterflies and insects, symbols of the Miao’s mystic culture. These elaborate motifs are in a wide range of colors and have strong ideographic expression in nation, clan and language identification.

Festival Jacket and Skirt

During festivals, weddings and important ceremonies, Miao Hmong women usually wear a short jacket with beautifully embroidered patterns on the sleeves, shoulders, and collar. In some areas, they have silver ornaments and silver bells sewn onto the jacket and they call it a “silver jacket”.

Some Miao Hmong women wear long skirts which extend to their feet, and some wear short skirts which only arrive at their knees. Their beautiful pleated skirts have as many as 40 layers with over 500 pleats.

On top of the skirts, they wear embroidered apron dropping down to the knees or feet. At the edge of the apron, there are four or five long embroidered bands like a peacock’s plumage. Under the skirts, they wear leggings to match with their embroidered shoes.

Festival costumes of the Miao Hmong are a precious element of Chinese ethnic arts and crafts and have high artistic and cultural values. The exquisiteness of the Miao Hmong clothes has put the Miao Hmong at the top of the 56 ethnic groups of China in terms of artistic standards.


by Xiao Xiao @

Miao Hmong Costume-A History Book Worn on Body

326If you are fortunate enough to visit a Miao Hmong village during festivals or wedding ceremonies, you will be dazzled by the varied and colorful costumes and silver ornaments of Miao Hmong women.

Miao Hmong clothes are appealing not only because of their unique styles and craftsmanship, but also because they reveal the rich Miao Hmong culture and its long history. Their costumes are an integral part of their culture.


Long History

327Mountains and rivers make Miao Hmong villages difficult to access, which reduce the impact of modern civilization and help them maintain old traditions. Some old costumes from Chinese history recorded in ancient books from the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) have long since disappeared in many parts China, however, such costumes can still be found in the Miao Hmong community. Some foreigners who have visited the Miao Hmong call them “Living Terra Cotta Warriors.”

Great Artistry

Miao Hmong costumes are skillfully made with rich colors and great artistry. The crafts of embroidery, batik dyeing, appliqué quilting, weaving and silversmith technique have been handed down from generation to generation. Miao Hmong girls learn to embroider and do batik dyeing from the age of six or seven. Girls who live near water often use fish and shrimp as motifs, whilst those who live in the mountains use flowers and birds as motifs. The designs are symmetrical flowers, butterflies, birds, animals and geometric patterns. Many motifs used in Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan are similar to those used by the Yao people of Guang Xi and of the Golden Triangle of northern Thailand who are of the same ethnic origin. The designs used in south-eastern Guizhou are similar to the ancient Chinese Chu culture and other designs are similar to those used by the Han, Manchu, Yi, Buyi and Dong people of China, showing their ethnic relationship to those cultures. 328

Strong Culture Message

The Miao people, whose religious beliefs are thought of as primitive, have a strong sense of nation. Without written script, they pass their cultural and traditions not just through oral literature, but also clothing.

The clothes bear strong culture message. Different patterns and designs on the clothes retain rich meaning and refer to legendary stories about such things as their origins, wars and religious beliefs. Therefore, historians view them as the “Wearable History Book”.

The patterns of The Butterfly Mother, which records the origin of human beings, and Jiangyang who shot the sun and the moon, narrate the heroic legend of their ancestors. Many theme patterns such as Yellow River, Yangtze River, the plain and the city portray the tragic immigration history of their ancestors. The Miao Hmong people look to these patterns as history books with which no nationality can compare. The patterns have been passed down through generations as a symbol of the Miao Hmong group to memorize their ancestors and ancient homes. The Miao Hmong costumes speak to the world: “We are the Miao Hmong people and we came from the Yellow River and out of the Yangtze River and through long journeys and rugged paths, we have developed our splendid culture.”


by Xiao Xiao @

A Poem Written On Silver


Silver has unique significance in Miao Hmong culture. The Miao people have been deeply fascinated with silver since ancient times. The culture of silver was handed down since the Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC to 220 AD). The Miao’s silver jewelry are second to none in terms of quantity and varieties. The craft has developed into a unique art form.

The silver jewelry of Miao are in large varieties, which are particularly represented by that of Leishan County of Guizhou province and Fenghuang County of Hunan Province. Silver jewelries mainly include silver crown, horn, comb, earrings, necklace, bracelet and ring. These jewelry are mainly worn by women. The reason of wearing silver is primarily aesthetic, but also as amulets to ward off evil and as symbols of wealth.

Significance of Silver in Miao Culture

It is a tradition that when a girl is born, her parents will start saving money to make fancy silver jewelry that can weigh several kilograms. On the wedding day, the girl will be wearing these beautiful silver accessories all over her body, the more and heavier the better, showing her beauty and wealth of family and adding joyful atmosphere to the event.


The Origin of Miao Silver

In history, the Miao people live in regions of no silver resources, they had to work hard and melt almost all the silver coins and ingots they earned. This led to different levels of silver purity as currencies differed from region to region. For instance, the southeastern area of Guizhou province is divided into two parts by Leishan Mountain. In the north area, people used Dayang (a kind of silver currency) to make jewelry, so the silver purity was high, while in the south area, Erhao (a kind of silver currency) was used, so the jewelry contained less silver. Since 1950s, the Chinese government has showed great respect to Miao people’s custom and allocated certain amount of silver to them at a low price every year.


Traditional Craft

Today’s silver jewelry with basic fixed patterns and designs are the result of years of passing down and inheritance. Casting, beating, knitting, chiseling and carving are the common techniques for making silver ornaments. The patterns adopted are mostly dragon, phoenix, flower and bird, which are lifelike and exquisite. They are largely inspired by other art forms such as embroidery and wax printing. The silversmiths continuously improve and renovate the designs and patterns while keeping the traditional designs.

Miao Hmong silver jewelries are diversified, colorful, eternal and meaningful, just like beautiful poems written on the silver worth reading perpetually.


by Xiao Xiao @