A local government in Guizhou Province is spending money to train Shui minority women to learn horse-tail embroidery, an art form close to extinction.
Thus far funds have been allocated to train about 600 women to preserve the 1,000-year-old handicraft.
"We want to make this endangered craft a fast-growing industry in the county," said Liu Changjiang, a senior official in Sandu County, the country's only Shui autonomous county in Guizhou.
Despite weak sales in horse-tail embroidery items, 40-year-old Song Shuixian still believes the handicraft has strong market potential.
With the support of the Sandu government, she opened a shop 6 months ago.
As a traditional art form of Shui women, it is used as a decoration on clothes, shoes, wallets and T-shaped bags for carrying babies on your back.
But the skill is being lost as young Shui women prefer moving to big cities to work or study.
"It is a complicated procedure," Song said.
A thread for embroidering has to be spun into three thin threads, which then entwine three to four pieces of horse-tail hair. The hair is used to create different patterns. Cross-stitching is also needed to complete a piece.
"Only women in their 50s or 60s still have this skill," the mother of two sons and one daughter said. "If we don't preserve the handicraft it will disappear."
It was recently listed as an intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture. Born in Bangao village, an area famous for its horse-tail embroidery, Song learned the craft from her mother. In 1995, she began to collect all sorts of articles and tried to expand the use of horse-tail embroidery.
"A dress decorated with horse-tail embroidery can be sold for 10,000 yuan (US$1,240)," Song said, adding it may take more than a month to make such a dress.
In Libo County, another Shui region in Guizhou, many women sell horse-tail embroidery items at a shopping center.
"Our customers include both local people and tourists," said Yao Bingtai, a shop owner. "As tourism develops our business will certainly grow."
If Song's determination is anything to go by, the art form is in good hands.
"I want to set up a Website to tell the world about horse-tail embroidery," Song said. "I also want my daughter to learn this skill when she grows up."
(Xinhua News Agency February 9, 2006)