Ou Ruifan Hunan, China

Ou Ruifan, of the ethnic Dong group, is the inheritor of Dong brocade weaving craftsmanship on the National Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Since 2009, she has established the Dong Brocade Production and Processing Base and the Dong Brocade Museum in China's south-central Hunan province as well as the Center for Dong Brocade Weaving Craftsmanship and the Yawapawa Dong Brocade Troupe. She has also launched campaigns to promote the art, to develop Dong brocade products, and urge Dong girls to come back home to learn the techniques. By doing so, she hopes to nurture future inheritors of the craft. In 2011, the production base under her Tongdao Dongzu Brocade Weaving Craftsmanship Development Co., Ltd. was officially recognized as a demonstrative site for protection through its production of an intangible cultural heritage.



Why did you learn Dong brocade?


When I was working with the County Bureau of Culture in 2006, I learned that female Dong migrant workers, who had left their hometowns to work in big cities, were influenced by modern culture and had thus become indifferent to the traditional craft. Few people in Dong villages could weave as they once did. Senior craftswomen were either too old to see anything – let alone weaving or dying. Looms were burned as firewood or simply discarded. The art was withering. How can we possibly let an art with 2,000 years of history be lost like that? As a Dong myself, I felt obliged to rescue and pass on the techniques. One day, I will bring back its glory.


Could you tell us something about Dong brocade and the Dong culture?


In the past, every Dong girl had to learn weaving from her family at an early age. Otherwise, she would be held in low esteem for lacking ingenuity. There was a time when Dong brocade was used everywhere – : clothes, handkerchiefs, fastener straps, shoes, etc. You name it. The locals, seeing the artwork as their talisman, created images of birds and floral patterns on brocade to express their wishes for a bright future and their love of nature.


What are your wishes? 


Dong brocade has become part of my life. So far, we have trained over 3,600 artists in 12 villages of the county. Many Dong women have returned home to start weaving again. It provides them with a stable income and allows them to spend time with their family while also doing their jobs in the fields. It is my biggest wish and a great joy to protect and pass on the ethnic culture of Dong by developing more and better handicrafts, promoting the art to the world and bringing fortune back to Dong women.


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