When Unesco inscribed the traditional Li textile techniques of China’s Hainan province on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2009, it warned that they were “exposed to the risk of extinction and are in urgent need of protection”.
The warp ikat technique was among the skills that mothers of the Li ethnic group passed on to their daughters. “Ikat is an important part of textile dyeing in the traditional Li textile techniques, part of a long Li history,” says Deng Jinghua, a researcher at the Hainan Provincial Mass Art Centre in Haikou City, in an e-mail.
The character in Mandarin, pronounced “beng”, is one of the oldest Chinese characters, and Japan also used the character, he notes.
Before the Unesco inscription in 2009, Deng recalls, “very few people knew about it. But after training and publicity, thousands of Li women engaged in the technology.” The technique has since gained “many fans, and a lot of income.”