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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 11:04 pm 

Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:30 am
Posts: 315
Following on from a post on Dao headcloths and the Chinese characters incorporated therein two questions arise – Why were they incorporated? and What particular meaning did the characters have?

Although use of foreign words/characters may reflect a desire for women to appear literate this seems perhaps too simplistic an interpretation. One possibility is that people have borrowed Han Chinese characters to represent a word in their own language with a similar sound (use of phonemes). Another possibility is perhaps that certain incorporated characters are used to represent longer phrases, a form of short hand, which to outsiders may appear as a completely random combination of characters. Trying to identify the possible phrase individual characters are meant to represent, as well as the meaning behind the phrase, requires an insider’s knowledge which I don’t have. In a sense regional slang or abbreviated words may preclude understanding, even after explanation of the word, if the situation words are used is not understood by the outsider.

There is also the need to understand that many groups imbue their textiles with religious significance and that the use of Han Chinese characters, simplified or traditional, on minority textiles may reflect the minority peoples understanding of cosmology in their religious practice. Why use a foreign Han Chinese script? It may simply be that there was no written form of their own language but perhaps it could reflect an interpretation that the ruling gods were in favour of the Han Chinese as evidenced by Han Chinese domination. Could it be that religious communication, utilising Han Chinese characters, enabled minority peoples to have access to the ruling gods?

Many questions and possibilities - suffice to say that as an outsider it is nigh on impossible for me to be definitive about textile meaning whilst exploring a wondrous field.

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PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2012 2:59 am 

Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2003 6:34 pm
Posts: 394
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thank you for your thoughts on this Iain. I find writing on textiles to be a fascinating area of cultural exploration, and your suggestions for the use of this obscure language very intriguing. In Thailand, and neighboring countries in SE Asia, there is a tradition of 'phaa yan', or yantra cloths, which are written upon by specialized masters using old, or fairly obscure languages, usually with spiritual and/or religious connotations. The thinking is that using a language unknown to the average individual imparts a sacred and mysterious quality to the textile, which when properly blessed will contain a power- be it to protect, provide good fortune, etc. This probably also illustrates your point about having access to the gods via language.

Susan Stem

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