Ruan Xian’e: Guang embroidery is not a vanishing sunset

Zhujiang Business 2017-05-05


Ruan Xiane is one of the representative successors of the fourth batch of provincial intangible cultural heritages. (Photo by Guangzhou Daily)


In 2014, Guang embroidery appeared in the Guangdong 21stCentury Maritime Silk Road economic and trade cooperation meeting. Ruan Xiane, one of the representative successors of the fourth batch ofprovincial intangible cultural heritages, showed her excellent skill to the audience in the meeting.


Guang embroidery, also called Yue embroidery, was known as four Chinese famous embroideries with Su embroidery, Xiang embroidery and Shu embroidery. As a traditional handicraft technique and cultural sedimentation, Guang embroidery has been listed in the first national intangible cultural heritage list in 2006. Nowadays, this technique has faded but Guang embroidery in Shunde is still popular overseas.


Learned embroidery at 18 and never give up


Although we have walked along the Huagai Road in Daliang for many times, we do not know some embroiderers are working in Guangxiu Building, which is surrounded by different kinds of Fashion boutiques. The headquarter of Foshan Shunde Fude Handicraft Co., Ltd.(hereinafter refer to Fude), a hand embroidery company which has the biggest exportation of embroidery in China and 99.5% of shawls made by which issold overseas, is located there, but few local people know it.


When the reporter walked into Guangxiu Building, more than twenty embroiderers were working in a workshop. Some beginners were learning alone and some were finishing a work with other embroiderers. Ruan Xiane was sitting among them, wearing a pair of reading glasses. She was retired but the company hired her back as a chief. She had never thought that she had insisted on doing embroidery since she got in touch with it at 18 years old.


As Zheng Naiqian, the chairman of Fude introduced, Nanhai, Panyu and Shunde have become important towns of embroidery since the late Qing Dynasty. Most of their embroideries were exported overseas by shops in Guangzhou. But in 1930s, the New Life Movement initiated a simple life style and embroidery disappeared in peoples life gradually. However, embroidery workshops in Shunde paid their attention to expand overseas market. After New China was founded, almost all embroideries made in Shunde had been exported. In 1970s, every town in Shunde had its own embroidery workshop and many people did embroidery to make a living. The 18-year'old Ruan Xiane, who lived in Jiangyi, Leliu, was one of them. She said she had to do farm work in the daytime and did embroidery at night to earn several cents. In 1979, Ruan Xiane was hired by Shunde Embroidery Factory.


In 1980s, embroiderers who worked with Ruan Xiane transferred their careers because of the  reform and opening-up policy, but she still held fast to doing embroidery. She said that compared with her former colleagues, her salary was low. When her son was born, Ruan Xiane decided to go back to Jiangyi village because many clothing factories needed workers. At that time, Zheng Naiqian began to take charge of Fude and hired her back, helping her to solve problems of accommodation and enrollment of children,so Ruan Xiane was thankful to him. I am familiar with embroidery and I can get started easily no matter what I do. Ruan Xiane said, the most important thing was that she loved that job. She created a work Bai Niao Chao Fengwhich showed one hundred of birds making pilgrimage to pay homage to phoenix with other embroiderers and won the gold medal in China National Arts and Crafts Hundred Flowers Award. In 1991, Ruan Xiane was awarded the China National Arts and Crafts prize.

A double-faced embroidery which looks the same on both sides.


Guang embroidery made in Shunde is a double-faced embroidery which makes it different from others. The reverse looks the same as the obverse in its color and grain. Zheng Naiqian said, it took all workers in the factory nearly ten years to promote this technique twenty years ago. Ruan Xiane also participated in this project. She introduced that after a designer drew the pattern, she numbered every flower and leaf and matched it with color and thread. Sometimes, a pattern needed threads with at least seventy colors. Now we could calculate the demand for different threads and labor force. It just takes several days to finish a work, Mr. Zheng told the journalist proudly, and it also depends on the mass data collected by the company.


Nowadays, only about thirty people are working in Guangxiu Building, and lots of embroiderers are working in other places. In 1990s, Fude opened several embroidery factories in the north and west of Guangdong and in other provinces such as Jiangxi, Hubei, Henan and Xichuan. In golden age, Fude contracted more than 90 factories and launched training courses in 14 provinces and about 130 districts, having 30 thousand embroiderers. Zheng Naiqian said, many factories has been closed down because few and few people want to learn embroidery. Now Fude has set up about 20 embroidery factories in Guangxi and the west of Guangdong and had about 5 thousand workers. Shunde is still the biggest Guang embroidery collecting and distributing center in China.


Spain has a female population of more than 20 million and two thirds of them are our customers. Zheng Naiqian said confidently. Fude has become the biggest Guang embroidery tippet supplier in Europe. In September, 2014, Ruan Xiane has been awarded as one of the representative successors of the fourth batch of provincial intangible cultural heritages. Although she taught thousands of students, she did not teach her daughter. She said, her daughter wanted to see how she made embroiderywhen she was young, butshe got her away from the work in order to protect it.


We can find that Ruan Xiane participates in different performance and experience activities actively because she wants to tell people that Guang embroidery is not a vanishing sunset.