Traditional Li textile techniques: spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidering

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): China



Traditional Li textile techniques: spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidering

The traditional Li textile techniques of spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidering are employed by women of the Li ethnic group of Hainan Province, China, to make cotton, hemp and other fibres into clothing and other daily necessities. The techniques involved, including warp ikat, double-face embroidery, and single-face jacquard weaving, are passed down from mothers to daughters from early childhood through verbal instruction and personal demonstration. Li women design the textile patterns using only their imagination and knowledge of traditional styles. In the absence of a written language, these patterns record the history and legends of Li culture as well as aspects of worship, taboos, beliefs, traditions and folkways. The patterns also distinguish the five major spoken dialects of Hainan Island. The textiles form an indispensable part of important social and cultural occasions such as religious rituals and festivals, and in particular weddings, for which Li women design their own dresses. As carriers of Li culture, traditional Li textile techniques are an indispensable part of the cultural heritage of the Li ethnic group. However, in recent decades the numbers of women with the weaving and embroidery skills at their command has severely declined to the extent that traditional Li textile techniques are exposed to the risk of extinction and are in urgent need of protection.


Decision 4.COM 14.04

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: Traditional Li textile techniques, transmitted from mothers to daughters, are skills essential to the personal identity of Li women and to the cultural identity of the Li ethnic group, employed to create cloth that is both practical and richly imbued with symbolic meaning;
  • U2: Widely practised as recently as three decades ago, the Li textile techniques are today mastered by fewer than a thousand women, mostly elderly, and certain techniques such as the double-face embroidery count only a handful of experts; industrialization brings mass-produced goods that displace the traditional textiles, tourism introduces new styles and tastes, and universal childhood education leaves little time for learning traditional skills;
  • U3: The State and textile artisans have together elaborated a set of safeguarding measures giving first priority to the transmission of textile skills, but including as well efforts to provide raw materials, to introduce legal protections, to raise awareness and to document the rich diversity of textile techniques and designs;
  • U4: Li artisans and civic leaders have taken the initiative to propose inscription on the Urgent Safeguarding List and have participated actively in the preparation of the nomination, enlisting the support of national and local authorities for the nomination effort, and giving it their free, prior and informed consent;
  • U5: In response to initiatives from the authorities of Hainan Province, and by decision of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Li textile techniques were included on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.



© 2009 by Hainan Provincial Mass Art Center

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