蘇繡 Suxiu (Suzhou embroidery)
編號: VII - 18
Inscribed list: National List, First Batch
Inventory no.: VII - 18
Nominating unit(s): Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
Suxiu means “embroidery of Suzhou,” and is one of the four major styles of Chiense silk embroidery. To be more specific, Suxiu represents the traditional embroidery of Suzhou and the surrounding cities in Jiangsu Province. Being the most famous and developed of embroidery styles in Jiangsu, it has come to represent Jiangsu embroidery as a whole. Suxiu is famous for its subtle and refined needlework, with balanced compositions and dense stitching.
The origins of Suxiu is unclear but the earliest example of Suxiu was proved to be from the Song dynasty. The earliest historical record for embroidery is from the Spring and Autumn period, which mentions embroidered clothing in the Wu Kingdom area, which is present-day Suzhou. Lady Zhao, one of the wives of Sun Quan, the founder of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period, was also renowned for her embroidery skills. If all these historical records are true, the history of embroidery may be as long as two thousand years. By studying the remaining pieces of embroidery from Yuan dynasty, it can be seen that there were at least nine techniques for Suxiu from that time period. In Ming dynasty, people liked to use literati painting as the source material for Suxiu art. The saying of 「家家養蠶，戶戶刺繡」, meaning that every family was involved in sericulture, and every home in embroidery, indicates the prevalence and popularity of Suxiu in Suzhou at that time. By the Qing dynasty, Suxiu was a mature and developed art. Double-sided Su embroidery started to appear in this period. Suzhou was also renowned as ‘Xiushi’ which means the city of embroidery. In the late Qing period, the master embroiderer Shen Shou (沈壽)’s work so impressed the Empreess Dowager Cixi that she was placed in multiple capacities in charge of embroidery within the Qing government. Her pieces have been referred to as “lifelike embroidery” (Fang Zhen Xiu,仿真繡) due to their resemblance to paintings, and some of her pieces were given as gifts to the Heads of foreign states and won several international awards.
There are mainly three styles of Suxiu today: traditional fine embroidery (Xixiu,細繡); the “lifelike embroidery” (Fang Zhen Xiu,仿真繡) style founded by Shen Shou; and crisscross stitch embroidery (Luan Zhen Xiu,亂針繡) founded by Yang Shouyu. The lifelike embroidery founded by Shen Shou mostly features people as the subject matter, adopting the portraiture and landscape painting techniques from western art, differentiating it from traditional Suxiu. The crisscross stitch style embroidery founded by Yang Shouyu is based on intricate cross stiches, and is influenced by the lifelike embroidery style, thus also reflecting characteristics of western art.
After the Ming and Qing dynasties Suxiu developed rapidly, and although it saw a decline in popularity during the chaos of conflict in the early 20th century, it has since been recognized for its value. In the late Qing dynasty, Shen Shou dictated a book, Principles and Stitching of Chinese Embroidery (Xue Huan Xiu Pu,雪宦繡譜), that recorded the skills and knowledge she gained from her 40 years of artistic practice, and is now considered an essential volume in studying embroidery. In 1957, the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute was established, located in the Mountain Villa of Secluded Beauty in Suzhou. The Institute has helped to train thousands of embroidery masters and specialists through these years, ensuring the preservation of Suxiu. The Suzhou Embroidery Museum was later established in 1986, situated near the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, but relocated to the Wang Ao’s Ancestral Temple. The Museum houses Suxiu masterpieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
In 2006, Suxiu was included on the First Batch of the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China and one year later, Ms. Li Eying and Ms. Gu Wenxia were named as the representative inheritors of Suxiu.
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