By Marin Hanson
IQSCM Curator of Exhibitions
On Sunday, we went to the Panjiayuan Market. It's the largest "antiques" market in Beijing. Most of the vendors are selling cheap, knock-off souvenirs, but you can find real vintage items as well. The physical layout of the market is huge -- probably 40-50 outdoor rows of stall after stall, plus one large building with two floors of furniture, embroidered screens, early Communist era clothing, etc etc. We decided to skip some whole sections of the market since they were dedicated to books, manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures, and we had ONE single objective: find textiles, preferably patchwork and appliqued pieces.
Initially, it looked as though we weren't going to have much luck. After the first hour or so, we'd only seen one or two stalls with textiles, including some very interesting lotus shoes (tiny embroidered shoes for bound feet). Then, as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.
In the eastern section of the market we came across a dozen or more stalls with good textiles (not just newly made tourist items), about a half a dozen or so of which had pieces that really interested us. Many of these stalls were run by people of the Miao ethnic minority.
One particularly good stall was run by a man named Lei Hongbin.
He, too, was ethnically Miao and told me that he became interested in selling ethnic minority textiles because he'd seen so many items being sold with improper information or incorrectly identified. (A side note: at ANY market like this, in any country, you need to take everything dealers say with a HUGE grain of salt -- Buyer Beware.) He seemed more credible than other dealers and I chatted with him for quite a while. (Another side note: my rusty Chinese did start to come back to me and although I think I probably only understood about one third of the actual words he spoke, I probably understood about two-thirds of the overall meaning of what he said, if you get the difference).
He told us about what some of the Miao symbolism meant and showed us how Miao skirts would have traditionally been worn. They were usually layered, with up to nine (!) being worn at once, and topped off with jackets (again, layered, with up to six at once) and a decorative apron. He also talked a bit about how a great deal of design and technique crossover occurs between close neighbors, like the Miao and the Buyi people of Guizhou Province.
While the Panjiayuan visit didn't result in any acquisitions, it was a fruitful day in terms of research. We saw several genuine vintage ethnic minority quilt tops and saw just as many recently-made pieces being passed off as the real thing. I can imagine that we might want to return here again some day to purchase a few select pieces for the IQSCM collection (and avoid a whole lot of other ones!)
Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center
& Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She
holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois
University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a
quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking
practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.