As a national intangible cultural heritage, Maliu embroidery is the generic term of the folk embroidery in several townships under Guangyuan city, Southwest China’s Sichuan province. Their residents draw on local resources such as needles, colorful cotton floss and self-woven cloths to make embroidery artworks.
An inheritor of the Maliu embroidery technique, Zhang Juhua, said that in Maliu township, people called the embroidery Jiahua (cross-stitching) which is the most basic and traditional stitch of Maliu embroidery.
Zhang added that female Maliu embroidery artists in the township usually embroidered some sachets before the Chinese New Year to pray for a good harvest and wish for an auspicious new year. In addition to Chinese zodiac animal signs, the lion, symbolizing happiness and a peaceful state of mind and a guardian against evil, is also a popular motif on the sachets.
Through the ages, the Maliu embroidery has been passed down from generation to generation orally and through practice. In Maliu township girls start to learn the Maliu embroidery at the age of 4 or 5. Before getting married, they have mastered the various stitching skills. And the local people judge the girls’ dexterousness based on the quality of their embroidery works.
In the 1980s, there were only 1,300 women good at Maliu embroidery among the township’s 3,000 women. In the 1990s, an increasing number of women went to big cities to work and there were fewer people who could make excellent Maliu embroidery. To preserve this cultural heritage, Maliu embroidery was incorporated into the local school curriculum in 2003 under the guidance of Zhang Juhua and some female Maliu embroidery artists.
In 2008, Maliu embroidery was included on the list of the national intangible cultural heritage, and Maliu township was rated as a "hometown of Chinese folk art." In 2003, Maliu embroidery won the best exhibition award at an international intangible cultural heritage festival, which helped more people learn about it.
In recent years, Chaotian district in Sichuan province has opened rural night schools and distinctive skills programs to help local women learn Maliu embroidery techniques. With the development of local tourism, Maliu embroidery has also gained popularity among visitors.