By Kartika Putra
Shitouzhai felt like a recreation of an ancient village for tourists that had since been abandoned. The infrastructure to host a thousand tourists was there, but the parking lots were empty. Statues of Buyi women performing tasks associated with Batik textiles lined the river, but there were no Buyi fabrics on display and no women using the ‘Batik rinsing pool’.
There was such little evidence of Batik textiles that at first we thought we had the wrong town. Travel blogs suggested that we would be met by Buyi women at the entrance who would charge a 40 Yuan entry fee to the village, but instead we found empty streets. The area was beautiful nonetheless; stone buildings and stone streets amidst grassy mountainous rises of land that dotted the landscape. A river trickled alongside the village, as if its best years had passed. A poor cousin to the Huangguoshou Waterfall just three kilometres away. The only tourists we could see were groups of Chinese under gaudy umbrellas who had come for picnics in their finest wear.
After looking at the Shitouzhai Museum’s displays of Batik designs we wandered through town hopeful of trying to find artisans. The streets were crumbling in the corners, some were under construction. We met an old lady who was happy to show her fabrics at her door but when we asked if she did the wax work and dyeing herself she closed the door in our face.
One old lady ushered us inside her stone house, a baby still strapped to her back. The interior of the house was rudimentary, bare stone walls, the air inside was cold and fresh. There was no dye vat in her house even though the travel blogs said this was very common. She showed us her fabrics but conversation was limited by the lack of an interpreter and by our inability to communicate. We left hoping we hadn’t offended her.
We found what looked to be a shop on the street overlooking the river. A woman showed us her fabrics and by that time we had our questions prepared in Chinese characters. She was asking for 400 Yuan per metre. Too expensive for what Wolftress could pay, with no confirmation that these fabrics were made by the artisan and no way of buying in bulk.
We later found out that the Buyi of Shitouzhai don’t make batik any more. We were told by Billy Zhang, a Miao expert, that the area had become Chinese due to the tourism associated with Hangzhou waterfall and that the local people had changed their practises in order to accommodate the tourism and survive.
A sad reality about the loss of these traditional textiles. But also a reaffirmation that the work that Wolftress does is needed and will make a difference in the preservation of traditional crafts. We continued to search for textiles nonetheless, with a heavy heart, we trekked back to Kaili.