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Batik--a vivid Chinese folk art (1)
Latest Updated by 2003-12-10 16:47:38

If you ever go to southwest China's Guizhou province, the colorful ethnic clothes are likely to be the first things to catch your eye. Of these, batik cloth is most common, as Guizhou is called the "the hometown of batik."

Batik is a traditional folk craftwork that has been handed down from generation to generation in China's southwest area. It is a way of dyeing cloth after it is coated with wax. Some of the designs on these batiks are bold, while others are fine and smooth. Wherever they are found, on garments, scarves, bags, tablecloths, bedspreads, curtains, and other decorative items, simply and elegant is the always style.

There is a folktale about its origin. Long, long ago, there was a girl living in a stone village called Anshun, now a city in Guizhou Province. She was fond of dyeing white cloth into blue and purple. One day, while she was working, a bee happened to land on her cloth. After it flew away, she found there was a white dot left on the cloth, which looked very pretty. This discovery led to the use of wax in dyeing.

Minority women in Huangping, Danzhai, and some other minority place in Guizhou are very skilled in making batiks. As an indispensable part of their apparel, young girls learn to make batik, to weave, and to embroider at a very early age.

Batiks made in Guizhou must go through four necessary processes: waxing, painting, dewaxing and rinsing. The clothes usually used are a kind of local handmade white cloth, or some loom-made white cloth, floss silk or poplin will also do. Guizhou is rich in "Lancao" or indigo plant, a sort of knotweed plant with two to three chi's high (a unit of length), which blossoms in July and reaps in August. To make the dyes, its leaves are collected, and fermented in a pit until they are indigo in color. In Guizhou dye houses using indigo are found in every country fair, still, some people prefer buying indigo back home and dyeing cloth themselves.

A piece of white cloth is placed on a plain board or tabletop. Wax is put into a pottery bowl or metal pot and heated with charcoal until it has melted. Beeswax is mainly used. It does not dissolve in water unless the temperature is very high.

The painting tool is a specially designed knife formed by two or more pieces of same-shaped copper fixed to a wooden handle. It is slightly hollow in the middle and with the edge ajar, so it can hold the melted wax. Different patterns require different shaped knifes, like semicircular, triangular and axe shaped.

Painting is the most delightful part. A brief outline is drawn before the various patterns are painted on. They range from flowers, birds, fishes, paper-cut patterns, to folklore tales and assorted geometric shapes. Each ethnic group has its own style.

Then the wax-covered cloth is dipped in the indigo vat for about 45 minutes. In the past, this took from five to six days. The wax on the cloth often cracks after it hardens. The cloth is then dyed and the dyes seep into the cracks and make fine lines, which are the so-called "ice veins". These ice distinguish genuine batik clothes from the imitated ones.

When the time has elapsed, the cloth is removed and boiled in water to remove the wax. Then, in the final stage, the cloth is rinsed with clear water. After that, beautiful patterns in blue and white appear on the cloth. That is the batik.

Editor: Catherine

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