Over 100 years ago, in Spain and other European countries, both woman workers and aristocrats were proud to own a Manila shawl. Is it true that the Manila shawl, which is still popular today, originated in China? What kind of person could embroider shawls with such intricate and vibrant patterns in bold colors?
Jaime, Ambassador of the Philippines to China,has a Guangzhou embroidered shawl, which is a gift from a Chinese friend.It’s also said to be called the Manila shawl. Why does an object from China have a name associated with the Philippines? Commissioned by Mr. Ambassador, “Silk Road Story” comes to look for the answer. In response to our inquiries, Mr. Ambassador contacted the creator of this shawl. So we decided to visit him.
Foshan is one of the birthplaces of Guangzhou embroidery.This is where Mr. Ambassador’s shawl was made. Guangzhou embroidery and Chaozhou embroidery are collectively known as Cantonese embroidery, one of the four famous embroideries of China,the other three being Suzhou embroidery, Hunan embroidery, and Sichuan embroidery, with a history of over 2,000 years. Guangzhou embroidery, famous for its vivid images, clear textures, bright colors, and full composition,was included in China’s first group of national intangible cultural heritages items.
Zheng Naiqian, Chairman of Fude Handicraft Ltd. in Shunde, Foshan (formerly Shunde Embroidery Factory). He is a very picky man. Even the most experienced embroiderer would be convinced by Mr. Zheng’s advice. For 34 years in a row, he has been studying the craft of Guangzhou embroidery and understanding all the stitches and the characteristics of patterns in each era with an almost harsh attitude. The Guangzhou Embroidery Workshop he is in charge of has summarized a compilation of precious traditional stitches, which is already in the museum.
During the Qing Dynasty, that’s when the Guang xiu was exported from the southeastern coast of China to Manila and then from here, it was brought to the Port of Acapulco in Mexico by large vessels across the Pacific Ocean. Then from the Port of Mexico in Acapulco, it was brought to the Port of Veracruz in the west coast of the Atlantic, and from there, shawls was brought to Seville in Spain, south of Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. And then from there, it was distributed to many European markets. But at that time, European people didn’t know the origin of the shawl. They only knew that it came from Manila. Thus they called it Manton de Manila, or the shawl of Manila.
Over 200 years ago, the Mexican War of Independence broke out, so the Manila galleon trade had to stop. Another route was chosen to ship Guangzhou embroidered shawls. They no longer went through the Port of Manila. Now I’ve finally figured out the route of the Manila shawl’s Silk Road journey. The shawls set sail from China and went all over the world through the transit port of Manila.