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University Museum Exhibitions Previous 2008

The Colours of China- breathtaking costumes from China

The Colours of China

8 February - 14 September 2008

Chinese minorities

The People's Republic of China is home to many different ethnic groups. The Han people, who live in the eastern part of China, make up about 90% of the total population. The other Chinese ethnic groups are considered as minorities and occupy the western part of China. This exhibition displays the costumes and accompanying ornaments of several ethnic groups living in Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Hainan. Special attention is paid to the religious ceremonies of the Yao, who are Taoist predominantly.

Ceremonial dresses

In addition to language, costumes can be used to express the particular identity of an ethnic group. Because many subgroups can be distinguished within most ethnic groups, a large variety of costumes documents the rich history of the minorities. The different styles of the costumes can be recognized by a combination of the different parts, the colours, the techniques and the decorative patterns.

Ceremonial dresses are worn during special occasions, such as births and birthdays, weddings, funerals or festivals. Ornaments are important parts of the ethnic costumes. The ornamental items can be worn on the head or as pendants.

Taoist Yao

The Yao, who currently live in the southern part of China and the bordering areas of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, are well known for their costumes and ceremonies. This ethnic group, whose members make a living from agriculture, includes many subgroups, each with their own dialect and traditional costume. The Yao have adopted Taoism as a religion, which is interwoven with daily life and practised by all members of the community. They perform a lot of rituals in which special objects are used. These include, among other things, Yao ceremonial paintings. A typical set of paintings consists of 17 large paintings, a few smaller ones and a long scroll depicting a long procession of characters. The large paintings depict the deities in a fixed order with the exception of one painting on which the founding ancestors of a family are portrayed.

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