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 Post subject: Li altar hanging?
PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 2:49 am 
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Location: Bristol, England
I came across this embroidered Li Altar Hanging (as I was told, although it was originally described as a quilt cover) whilst in Guizhou in September. I know it has been fairly well knocked around, but we’ve had a lot of Li textiles on the forum so I thought Li fans might be interested (or might be encouraged to show their own examples) and those members with Li books will be able to fill in the details for us.

The pattern includes plants around the edges with two blue dragons and two phoenix vying for the flaming pearl all flying above the foaming waves of the sea.

I hope this piece will generate some comments as we haven’t seen a Li piece like this on the Forum before and I’d be grateful to know more about it.


Thanks for any contributions


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Li-Altar-Hanging-7.jpg
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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:42 am 
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Andrew

Very many thanks for posting such informative photos of this Li textile. A detail of the back is always welcome.

I have looked in what I call 'the big Li book' (the 2001 'Traditional Culture of Li Ethnic Group') and, right at the end of the book there is a short chapter - XII - on 'Dragon Quilt'. I quote below from the Chinglish text which is all there is apart from some short commentary with photos of 14 such covers illustrated:
Quote:
DRAGON QUILT

The style of dragon quilt or bedcover varies according to different dialects and colloquial expression, including single breadth, three joint breadth and five joint breadth, but dragon quilt with three joint breadth in the majority.

The five joint breadth quilt is made up of five pieces of brocade, which usually is two meters in length and 1.5 meter in width with human figure pattern in white and coffee as its major pattern. It is called "ghost pattern", a sign of ancestor worship.

The three-joint breadth quilt consists of three pieces of brocade sewn together. It measures two to three meters in length and 1.1 to 1.4 meters in width with dragon, phoenix, kylin and fish as its major pattern supplemented by flower pattern.

There are several types of such patterns, including that of kylin with single phoenix, double dragons with double phoenixes, flying dragons and a human figure.

There has been no identical one for the same type, since they are handiwork confined to the taste of the individual woman who makes it by hand. Therefore, there are many varieties of dragon quilt.

Your coverlet is very much in the style of most of those illustrated and there are two shown with the inner 'Greek key' rectangle (a misnomer in this case if ever there was one). You seem to have a couple of dragons, a couple of phoenixes and I think that the mountains at the bottom will relate to the top of Wuzhi Mountain which is shown in one of those illustrated. The top and bottom borders are very similar to many shown.

When I have seen examples of these dragon embroideries I have been surprised at the premium pricing above individual Li clothing items. I suppose it reflects the better acceptance of 'wall hangings' by collectors and the greater visual impact and relationship to painted art. To me they seem more Han than Li. I don't know if all Li groups make them. There is a skimming reference at the start of the quoted text: 'The style of dragon quilt or bedcover varies according to different dialects and colloquial expression' but with no further amplification.

Looking through the rest of the book there is little to show any of the coverlets being used. There are a couple of photos in section VIII 'Funeral' which show a covering over a coffin which could might be a 'Dragon Quilt' but the photos are not totally clear and there is not much embroidery showing. See below. The Chinglish reference is 'Sacral Ceremony Before the Burial in the Cemetery'. Here I think that the Li group - from a woman's jacket - is probably Qi Li. As it happens, one of the areas where the Qi Li may be found (as mentioned in Section IV of the book) is 'Mount Wuzhi's Tongza area'.

Susan Stem may have some further info as I know she has worked hard to research Li textiles. She is currently travelling and won't be checking into the forum for at least a couple more weeks.

I think that you have quite a desirable piece here albeit with some wear but this does not detract from its impact.


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Li-funeral01.jpg
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Last edited by Pamela on Sun Oct 29, 2006 11:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 12:06 pm 
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Andrew

I put 'Li Dragon Quilts' into Google.

I found http://www.chinatoday.com.cn/English/y200212/museum.htm where there is a photo of what looks like a strip from a 'Dragon Quilt'. There is a comment that 'The museum also has exhibits of Li minority dragon quilts'. The Museum in question is the Ethnic Museum of the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, contact details:

Address: Central University for Nationalities
27 Zhongguancun South Street, Haidian District, Beijing 100081
Open: 8:00-12:00 a.m., 2:00-6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday
Tel/Fax: 010-68932760, 68932390
E-mail: minzu65426@sina.com.cn

Looks like a museum which visitors to Beijing should keep on their travel map for a visit as they seem to keep putting on special exhibits. You probably already knew about it but I did not so for me a worthwhile find!

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2006 2:34 pm 
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Well, what an interesting discovery for me! I decided to put the name 'Lee J. Chinalai Li Dragon quilts' into Google to see if I could find if she might be linked to some info on the Li Dragon quilts - and hit a bullseye! (I already have an article that Susan Stem found for me on Meifu Li textiles written by Chinalai.)

The first link that came up was to text related to a Textile Society of America Symposium in 2004 (which I remember that forum member Sandie Shamis attended). The link is http://www.textilesociety.org/abstracts ... inalai.htm but I will paste here the text from the link:
Quote:
Dragon Covers-Mysterious Aberrations of the Li

Lee J. Chinalai

Over a million Li people, representing approximately fifteen percent of the total population, live predominantly in the mountainous areas of Hainan, China. The island is rich in silk, hemp, ramie and cotton. The Li, a tribal people, began spinning, weaving and dyeing in ancient times and developed over the centuries a reputation for the quality and beauty of their textiles. Although the clothing and textiles of the various Li sub-tribes span a range of style and design, all – with one exception – clearly emanate from Li religion, culture and tradition, sharing roots with other Daic-speaking groups. Several years ago, large, silk-embroidered cotton hangings appearing to date to the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, came onto the Chinese market. Although they were attributed to the Li, they looked more like ceremonial hangings for a Chinese emperor than a Chinese minority. Intrigued by this inconsistency, I went to Hainan. Through research and interviews I concluded that some time during the Ming period, the Court in Peking began to send prototype paintings filled with imperial symbols to Hainan for the Li to copy in the form of rich embroidered panels. These were then sent back to the Imperial Palace as tribute. It appears that some Li also made dragon covers covertly and hid them from the authorities. Over time the hangings became a secretive component of major Li ceremonies. With the help of 35 mm slides, projected on two screens simultaneously, this presentation compares the dragon covers with the splendid array of other Li textiles; then discusses how the material and production of Li indigenous weavings paved the way for their creation. It explores how a basically “foreign” textile assumed a clandestine, yet vital, role in Li culture and how, in the mid-20th century, political events forced dragon covers into the open and eventually created yet another transformation in their use and purpose.


Info on Chinalai from the programme is:

Quote:
Lee J. Chinalai and her husband Vichai have a business selling Asian and ethnographic antiques, with a strong focus on textiles and costumes of mainland Southeast Asia and South China. They travel often to learn and to buy, and have lived and worked in Thailand and the Middle East. Their clients include museums, corporations and private collectors. Chinalai attended graduate school in Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and has authored and co-authored a number of articles, including, “Ceremonial Dragon Covers of the Li,” “Yao Lan Tan Shamans’ Robes,” “Bridal Blankets of the Maonan,” “Yantra, Mystical Talismanic Cloths and Charms,” and “Ceremonial Paintings of the Yao.”


See website http://www.chinalai.net/ where on the publications link there is reference to an article 'Dragon Covers - Mysterious Aberrations of the Li of Hainan' Textile Society of America 2005 and 'Long Bei, Ceremonial Dragon covers of the Li of Hainan' with her husband in Hali Sep/Oct 2003 - Issue 130 (see back issues from Hali http://www.hali.com/Assets/Files/148%20 ... 20card.pdf ). I can see a hunt for the these publications coming on!!!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 1:42 am 
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Pamela, you have been busy!

Thanks for all this very helpful information. Can you tell me how you feel this piece should be described? Is it a quilt. a hanging or something with specific religious uses?

I must say now that this piece is not actually in my collection, not having any special interest in Li textiles, however, when I saw it in Guizhou last month, I did feel other members would like to see it and, if anyone is interested, the owner is open to offers.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 10:48 am 
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Andrew

Well, I was surprised when I thought that you might have acquired it for your own collection as it did not seem to 'fit'!

I am personally pleased to have found out more about this style of Li textile via the Lee J Chinalai abstract for the Textile Society as it had somewhat worried me that the embroideries were so Han in style and yet ascribed to the Li.

I personally would not call the items 'quilts' since, as a (largely former) quilter I define a quilt as being usually three layers of fabric held together by quilting stitches (just possibly two layers held together by quilting threads but much more debatable). So to me, if this is ever used on a bed (or a coffin) this would be a cover or coverlet. I am getting the sense that originally the textiles might have been for the imperial court more as hangings than as covers for beds. I think that, following Chinalai's descriptive style, 'Li Dragon covers' is probably the best generic definition. I am interested that they were/are used in Li ceremonies which possibly changes the emphasis. By the way, I found a photo of an altar hanging in 'the big Li book' and it was quite different in shape and design.

I have sourced Chinalai's Hali article - the back isssue is still available from Hali and I will be sending for that. When I have had a chance to read it I will add some further comments to this thread if relevant.

Thanks again, Andrew, for stimulating my learning processes by taking the trouble, via such careful photos and the time taken to prepare them for posting, to share with us Li enthusiasts this Li textile - especially given that you are not one of that ilk!

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