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Being modern Miao women: gendered ethnic identity, agency and the commodification of embroidery in Guizhou, China

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posted on 2022-03-28, 13:18 authored by Yinyin Ye
This thesis examines the impact of China's modernisation on an ethnic minority's traditional cultural practice in rural China. The opening up of the national economy in China resulted in the expansion of tourism and the industrialisation of the textile industry, both of which were important means of earning foreign exchange. At the intersection of these major changes lies Miao embroidery, traditionally produced by women as a part of the ethnic cultural practice. In some villages in Guizhou Province, Miao embroidery has been heavily commodified as part of the state policy to develop ethnic tourism. On the one hand, various government policies, museums, art collectors and tourist aesthetics increasingly define what authentic Miao embroidery means, and which types of embroidery are fit to represent the 'Miao culture'. On the other hand, the introduction of machine-made embroideries enables the mass production of cheap embroideries to satisfy seemingly insatiable hunger of tourists and other consumers, while elevating officially endorsed forms of hand-crafted embroidery to an art form worthy of state protection and large price tags. My discussion draws on an ethnographic study of Miao villages in Guizhou Province, where I engaged in participant observation, and interviewed Miao women and men, government officials, representatives of museums, tourist boards and other organisations. My analysis focuses on the impact of the large-scale economic change on ways in which Miao women interpret their ethnic cultural practice and family life, and shaped new aspirations. I argue that the commodification of Miao embroidery in China's modern industrial economy has paradoxically strengthened the traditional ethnic cultural practice, while reconfiguring the gender relations in the household and the village, and the Miao ethnic identity at large. The arrival of the modern embroidery economy provided opportunities for some Miao women to claim new power and influence, while worsening certain forms of existing inequalities for others. The women's engagement in modern production and consumption of embroidery has transformed the Miao community as a whole, providing a new means to assert their cultural sovereignty in a complex, and at times contradictory, manner


Table of Contents

Part 1, chapter 1. Introduction : Miao embroidery and ethnic tourism in post-socialist China -- 2. research methods -- 3. Ethnic minority politics and identity -- Part 2, chapter 4. Miao embroidery as a gendered ethnic practice -- 5. The commodification of Miao embroidery in Butterfly Village -- 6. The evolution of the commodification of Miao embroidery in Butterfly Village since the 2000s -- Part 3, chapter 7. The reconfiguration of gender relations and gender roles -- 8. The changing concept of authentic embroidery among the Miao -- 9. Modern Miao embroidery and the revitalisation of Miao ethnic identity -- 10. Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 335-388

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kumiko Kawashima


Copyright Yinyin Ye 2020. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xiii, 388 pages, illustrations)

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