The Beautiful Spread of Ningbo Gold & Silver Embroidery | 中国非物质文化遗产——宁波金银彩绣

Written by (作者): Jojo Chen 陈姣姣
Photos by (图片来源): Ningbo Gold and Silver Multicolor Embroidery Museum 宁波金银彩绣艺术馆


Since the Tang and Song Dynasties, Ningbo has been known as a fertile land of fish, rice, silk, and mulberries. Thanks to the last two, Ningbo was also an early home for gold and silver embroidery, with many a wealthy family taking part in the art or purchasing it. The embroidery method in Ningbo consists of wood carvings that are copied and woven into colored velvet with gold and silver thread. The patterns used are mainly auspicious, like dragons, phoenixes and ruyi. It is not realistic in nature, but goes for more of a grand effect and was prized by the royalty during the time.

Long after the opening of China, gold and silver embroidery was regarded as a project that needed to be salvaged and redeveloped. Today, the Ningbo Embroidery Factory is one of the largest exporters of the art in Zhejiang Province, but after China’s opening up, the factory was merged with a larger company and machine embroidery was substituted for work by hand, which led to a severe loss of quality.

The art is making a comeback though, and has been included in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. To learn more about this amazing art, we met with Qunzhu Qiu, the inheritor and curator of the Ningbo Gold and Silver Multicolor Embroidery Art Museum in Yinzhou.

The three-story museum contains exhibits of religious embroidery, home decorations, and a crafts hall where visitors can view the process of making embroider y first hand and even learn to do it. It total, there are over 300 embroideries from the Ming and Qing dynasties, all of them handmade. The embroideries can be purchased, but naturally they are not cheap. It was explained to us that the majority of the products are specifically designed for those who are fond of embroidery, and as time goes by, their value only gets higher.

The craft hall on the first floor is actually a capacious embroidery room. Sitting near the embroidery frame are several artists immersed in needlework. Visitors can watch the whole process and ask questions and even try it out for free. We were told by a smiling staff member that the works in the museum were not made or touched up here, but instead were made in the nearby village, with over 100 skilled embroiderers taking part at a time. The hall is a means for the museum to spread the art, as many young students come there to learn the skills needed to pick it up.



Among the exhibits, our favorite was “A Beautiful Landscape of Ningbo” which hangs in the crafts hall. At more than three meters long, this beautiful red silk landscape depicts people celebrating the Lantern Festival in ancient times, and includes landmarks well-known to locals, including Chenghuang Miao, T ianfeng Pagoda, Gangyagou, Zhuangyuanlou, and Shengyangtai. The artwork was a collaboration between five embroiderers that took two years to complete and won the Sange Award at the 10th Chinese Folk Art Festival.

Qiu told us the building had been designed as an office and was converted for the museum. Due to limited space, many of the works cannot be displayed. There are also issues with parking and visitor flow, as buses carrying tour groups can only stay at the entrance of Yinzhou Park and not next to the museum. A new museum will be built in Tiangong Zhuangyuan, with construction to begin before the end of 2016. Because the area is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Zhejiang, the new museum will do well in the park. To boost visitors, Qiu plans on having demonstrations of painting, calligraphy, and embroidery.

In recent years, gold and silver embroidery has not only gained attention and support from the government , but around the world as well . Last November, embroidery was included as part of the “Following Ningbo Masters ” Intangible Cultural Heritage Experience hosted by the Ningbo Information Bureau, with over 30 expats from various countries taking part in a special embroidery exhibition and class at 117 Art Center. In December embroidery got another special treat when it was presented during Nobel Week in Stockholm, Sweden in conjunction with the award being presented to Youyou Tu. One piece was presented as a gift to Tu, while the other was given to the panel of Nobel Prize judges.

Qiu notes that foreigners are very interested in traditional handicrafts, and it is because of this interest that various pieces of gold and silver embroidery were recently presented to individuals and groups in Egypt, Korea, Hong Kong and other countries. It seems that foreigners are looking once again to China to trade for their beautiful handcrafted products. Embroidery may someday become more popular than Chinese porcelain.

Gold and silver embroider y is not only beautiful, but versatile as well. It can be added used in making clothes, shoes, scarves, and even accessories like earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. The Ningbo Gold and Silver Embroidery Art Museum has helped this traditional Ningbo art to thrive and flourish, and will continue to do so for years to come.