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The White Pants Yao
    2007-03-24 14:55:47     CRIENGLISH.com

The White Pants Yao, or Baiku Yao in Chinese, is a branch of the Yao ethnic group. They get their name because the men wear white bloomers. The Baiku Yao have a population of around 30 thousand. They mainly live in the mountainous regions of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southwestern China.

The harsh mountainous environment has not prevented the Baiku Yao from developing a rich ethnic culture. In recent years, they've improved their lives by developing folk handicrafts.

Today, our reporter Ning Yan will introduce us to a Baiku Yao family and listen to their story of how they became well off.

Reporter: Li Shaosheng and his family in the Lihu Yao township of Guangxi got up early on Saturday. Li loaded a cart with the wax prints created in his workshop and set off to sell them in the market while his wife and daughters were busy deying cloth.

Chinese wax printing is a traditional handicraft that's chiefly produced by the ethnic minority groups living in Guizhou, Yunnan and Guangxi. It's still a fashionable skill among the Baiku Yao people. They print pictures on a piece of white or beige cloth with beeswax, then dye it. When the wax is removed, the pictures are revealed. In Lis workshop, you can see piles of indigo blue cloth with many different beautiful white patterns. Li Yanzhen, the 16-year-old daughter of Li Shaosheng, has learned many skills required in wax printing while helping her parents after school.

She gave us a brief introduction to the process of making batik.

"You need to wash the cloth after it is dyed in the first bath, then air it. When it is dry, the cloth should be dyed in the second dye bath. In this case, it is black. And then repeat the process. In this case, it's indigo. Now the cloth is finished."

Li Shaosheng never imagined one day he would better his life by wax printing. He led a hard life in the remote mountainous regions, living by growing crops and farming livestock like most of the Baiku Yao in his township.

But after the Chinese government started implementing the west development strategy, ethnic minority groups like Baiku Yao started boosting their tourism industry by playing up their abundant natural and cultural resources.

As the township began receiving more and more visitors, Li Shaosheng discovered his wax prints and the Baiku Yao national costume were popular souvenirs for tourists. So he started his own dyeing business. It was a success because his products are durable and their colors never fade.

Li Shaosheng is a successful businessman now and he told us how he started building up his family fortunes.

"My annual income was only two or three thousand yuan when I lived on growing crops and livestock breeding. In order to earn more money, I began to sell the things which seemed to have a good market. Later, I began to sell cloth to see whether it was welcome. If it was, I would purchase more to sell."

As his sales grew, Li Shaoshengs income began to increase considerably. He could earn two to three thousand yuan every month if everything goes smoothly.

Li Shaosheng is the first person to try running a dyeing business in his community. His sales were not very good at the start because he had so little experience. To change the situation, Lis wife started to learn how to dye fabric from an experienced teacher in the neighboring town and practiced what she had learned in production. While his wife worked on her wax printing skills, Li Shaosheng conducted market research around the neighboring towns so that he could provide different towns with different kinds of cloth according to what the customers wanted. Now Li Shaosheng has become one of the first who are well-off in his hometown. He built a two-storey house three years ago and has his own van.

But Li Shaosheng doesn't plan to rest on what he has achieved. As more and more people step into the dyeing business, the competition on the market is becoming increasingly intense. Only people who put out new products can survive. Li Shaoshengs wife and daughters are learning new skills at home and trying to vary their design by introducing other colors than blue. His son, at the local high school, is thinking about majoring in textile printing in college and studying new technology to update their production techniques. Li Shaoshengs new plan is to hire people to open stores in other provinces to sell the traditional costume of Baiku Yao. He told us he wants to go abroad to have a look at the world outside in a few years.

These days more and more townsmen, like Li Shaosheng, have started forming businesses based on their ethnic culture. Their success has created prosperity in their lives, as well as the local economy. He Yongxiang is a local official who also belongs to the Baiku Yao ethnicity.

He told us the Baiku Yao's life has changed greatly.

"Now many Baiku Yao people are running their own business. Their life has been greatly improved and their income has increased. The per capita annual income has reached more than 2000 yuan."

Thank you, Ning Yan, for this interesting cultural journey.  China Horizons will be back in a moment.

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