Chinese minority costumes are famous for their vivid color, fine handicraft and rich varieties. The fact that they attach great importance to costume details is related with their nationalities’ origin and history. Those patterns, design and adornments, which had been handed down for generations, are not only delicate handicrafts, but also extensions of the minority cultural traditions. People could taste the rich social meanings and explore the customs and taboos behind.
In southwest border area of China, there live the old De’ang ethnic group people. The most typical costume feature in De’ang costumes is the dozens of rattan hoops around girls’ waist. It is said that the ancestors of De’ang came from gourd. Men all looked the same and women flew into the sky when they came out of gourd. It was the god of heaven who differentiated the facial features of men and helped men to catch women. The god tied women with rattan hoops and women were no longer able to fly. Hence women started to live together with men and multiply for generations and generations.
The waist hoops are made by bamboo strips. Some use bamboo strips in front and screwy silver threads in the back. Waist hoops are in different width, painted with red, yellow, black and green color, carved with patterns or coated with silver cover. The more waist hoops people wear and the more delicate the handicraft, the more honorable they would feel. For two people in love, those waist hoops that are made with elaborate efforts could show the cleverness and deftness of the fancy man and the sincere love for the girls. The more waist hoops adult women wear and the higher the grade of the material, the stronger their husbands’ commercial power is and the higher is her position in the family.
The waist decorations of Yi women are very unique. The style is not beautiful and soft, but rather rugged. Yi women traditionally wear big black waist rings usually made of elm tree skin. There is a legend about its origin. When Yi people in ancient times encountered their enemies, women ran for battlefield together with men. They were brave and good at fighting and they often used waist rings with iron cover to protect themselves in battle. Later, Yi women were no longer involved in battle, but still kept the tradition of using black waist rings for decoration. They consider waist rings as a kind of protective talisman and lucky sign.
Va minority girls also like to wear waist hoops, which were made mainly by bamboo or rattan in the past. Only women from rich family would use strings of beads or black lacquer bamboo rings to make the hoop. Some girls from richer families even used silver waist rings decorated with patterns. Yi women decorate their upper arms and wrist with silver bracelets and some bamboo or rattan hoops on their thigh and shank.
The silver belt of Dai girls is considered to be very precious. Some are handed down from mother to daughter for many generations. But in daily life, a silver waist belt is considered to be the love sigh. If a girl gives the silver belt to a young guy, it means that she falls in love with him.
Mongolian people in North also have unique waist adornments. Whenever grassland parties come and the most traditional horse racing and wrestling contests are held, young men will wrap a kind of special wide leather belt or silk ribbon. In daily dress, waist belts are also an indispensable part. Some belts are made by leather, but most are made by cotton cloth or silk. The belt is about three to four meters long. Because Mongolians are the horseback minority who are engaged in stock herding and also because they live in cold and windy area, tying a belt will not only prevent wind and coldness, but also keep the stabilization of waist and backbone while riding horse and holding halter.
Men would lift up the robes when tying belt in order to facilitate riding. They carry Mongolian knifes, flint and cigarette holders on their waist belts. Women like to pull down the robe when tying waist ribbons to make the robe smooth, which would highlight waistline and the beauty and uprightness of the body. The waist belt outside the Ewenke herdsman’s robe also has its own cultural connotations. It is considered to be a very impolite behavior for men and women not wearing waist belts. Women could tie no waist belt in usual time, but must tie belts when doing labor work. Yugur minority people who are engaged in stock farming also attach great importance to the waist belt. Men mostly wear red and blue belts, and hang waist knifes, steel for flint, flint, small wine kettles, snuffboxes or China tobacco pipes. Women mostly wear red, green or purple waist belts decorated with several colorful handkerchiefs sometimes. Russians in Northwest China like to wear thin waist belts made by leather or cotton, but mostly they wear silk belts woven by silk threads with a beautiful knot at the right side of the waistline and tassels hanging down naturally. Qiang people are good at embroidery. Besides using brocade waist belts, they also like to embroider colorful and fancy patterns on cloth waist belts.
All kinds of waist adornments attract modern anthropologists and fashion designers for their rich culture. Tracing back to the origin, waist adornments carry primitive life worship meaning, but for modern people who seek for change and arrangement aesthetics, waist decorations are only a kind of popular adornments.
If those people who have been to Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi in China see the local She minority girls, they will definitely be attracted by the unique head adornment – “Phoenix Crown,”a kind of red round piece of head adornment stretched from the back to the forehead. Because red hair threads are interwoven with hair, the phoenix crown could also be considered as a kind of hairstyle. Married women’s hairstyle is different. They comb their hair into high pail type hair bun, cover the back of the head with a chicken crest shape cap and bind red wool thread in hair. Some women put a 5cm or shorter bamboo pipe on top of the head and wrap their hair around the bamboo pipe into a whorl shape. They use tea oil or water to comb the hair and mix hair with fake hair, so their hair buns look tall, fluffy and lustrous. The “phoenix crown” for the bride is a kind of small and pointing cap made by bamboo pipes, covered by yellow cloth, and decorated with silver boards, bells and red cloth strips. Four pieces of red cloth strips hang down to the waist and a row of silver small human figures hang in front of the forehead to cover the face, which makes the bride look pretty and mysterious. In festive days, She minority people would wear the complete set of “phoenix dress,” which not only shows remembrance to their ancestors, but also makes them feel the protection from the previous generations. This is the ancestor worship existing in the costumes. In Chinese costumes as well as costumes of all mankind, one could always see primitive worship cultural concept displayed in all kinds of forms, either in general costume images or just a detail.