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The wax-dyeing life of a one-armed woman

( chinadaily.com.cn )

Updated: 2017-09-25

In a humble workshop in Danzhai county of Southwest China's Guizhou province, craftswomen were busy painting different patterns on cloth with their wax knives.

Fifty-three year old Yang Erlang sat in the corner silently focusing on her piece. She has been working in the shop, run by an Anhui merchant, for seven years.

Wax printing, also known as laran or batik, is one of the three traditional Chinese textile printing and was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006. Danzhai county is one of its birthplaces.

Like many other women of the Miao ethnic group in Guizhou, Yang started batik when she was just seven years old. She has every step of batik painting in her mind after so many years' work.

She dipped the wax knife into some honey wax and applied it in different patterns like butterflies or birds on the cloth, waiting for it to harden and crack, leaving the images on the cloth forever.

No one would think she was different than the other women in the workshop unless they noticed that she was painting with only her left hand.

More than 10 years ago, Yang lost her right arm when she went into the mountains to cut firewood and fell from a cliff.

She didn't quit working after the accident. "I had to keep on working because my son was in middle school and needed to get further education," said Yang.

She gradually recovered from the loss and found this job. She is now the most experienced craftswoman in the workshop.

"I never forget any line of the patterns," said Yang. "Batik has become a part of my life."

Yang not only keeps on practicing her skills but also takes every opportunity to pass down her skills to the younger generation.

Her apprentice Wei Qin, a 22-year-old Miao girl, is inspired by her hardworking spirit. "She gets up early at six and keeps painting until ten at night every day," Wei said, adding "I hope I can become as professional as her."

In recent years, more and more young people have been attracted to the ancient technique and are trying to keep it alive.

The wax-dyeing life of a one-armed woman

Yang Erlang paints with her left hand using a wax knife. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

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