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A local dating festival brings out the splendor of Yi embroidery

China Daily/ANN | Li Yingqing and Liu Yixi | Tuesday, Feb 14, 2017

The costume competition festival is a showcase of Yi traditional culture and a carnival for local people of all ages in Yongren county in Yunnan province's Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture.

Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network

While many single men and women in China tried to escape the blind dates their relatives set up during Spring Festival, the young people of a remote village in Southwest China's Yunnan province attended a local mass-dating event, following a tradition that dates back about 1,350 years.

Saizhuang Jie, or the "costume competition festival", is heldin Yongren county in Yunnan's Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

It originated in Zhiju, a small mountainous village that is home to the Yi ethnic group, and where girls learn embroidery from childhood.

The festival serves as a showcase for the beauty and talents of local women in addition to being a meeting place for young people.

On this special day, the women put on handmade costumes bearing delicate embroidery to attend an outdoor dance ceremony, described by locals as among the "oldest catwalks".

Young men also dress up and participate in the dance.

But the day isn't for the youth alone.

People of all ages can join the dancing. Parents who wish to find their children a good partner are particularly observant during the ceremony.

Li Yongfumo attended the festival with her family for the first time when she was 6.

Like many other Yi women of Zhiju, she met her husband at the event when she turned 17.

"He was standing outside the 'circle' watching me dance. After a while he came and took my hand," she says referring to an inner formation by the female dancers.

The 97-year-old still attends the ceremony in the company of her great-granddaughter.

The costume competition festival is a showcase of Yi traditional culture and a carnival for local people of all ages in Yongren county in Yunnan province's Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture.Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network

The event is drawing more people from neighbouring villages.

Su Jincong, 26, lives in a village 30 kilometers from Zhiju.

He has been attending the ceremony for awhile now.

Su says he already has "someone in his heart", but was supposed to seek her for a dance at the event this year.

The tradition is associated with the history of the area.

According to local folklore, the first costume competition was held in appreciation of two brothers who discovered fertile land while hunting and helped their tribe build today's Zhiju.

The elderly in the village were keen to find the two heroes good wives, so they organised the competition after hearing that the brothers wished to marry girls dexterous enough to design clothes with the embroidery of flowers.

For both its aesthetic and spiritual value, embroidery is still an important element in the lives of the Yi women.

Li Dongqin is proud of the traditional costume handmade by her mother.

The 27-year-old wears it with fashionable makeup and her hair dyed blonde at a salon in a town nearby.

She used to practice embroidery with her mother in Zhiju but was never able to do it as well as her, she says.

It usually takes a long time to master the techniques and patterns of Yi embroidery, but the majority of young women now work outside the village and have little time for it.

"Nothing compares to my mother's embroidery," Li says, adding that her mother makes a special effort to design new patterns on costumes for her.

"It simply makes her happy to see me dressed in her handmade clothes."

The "contest" also drew foreign visitors this year.

Sam Herman from Israel attended for the first time and says he was impressed by the beauty of the ancient culture.

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