I began this blog in the hopes not just of speaking about living and traveling in China, but also to call attention to some of the less well-known facts of Chinese life and lore. Among these are the beautiful hand-made batik hangings known as La Ran. While batik appears to be the best English translation, a “wax painting” may be a better fit.
La Ran is an ancient art form – as are many of China’s traditional crafts. However, unlike paper cutting, calligraphy, and Peking Opera Mask Making, La Ran belongs to the minorities of China’s mountainous Guizhou province. Two groups in particular – the Miao (called the Hmong in Southeast Asia) and the Buyi (sometimes spelled Bouyi) are renowned for their wax painting art. Indeed, La Ran is so central to the Miao culture that it is said each family keeps its own secret formula for making the deep indigo dye that characterizes traditional La Ran.
The process of making La Ran is laborious and time consuming. The artisan first dips a needle in molten wax and then begins to stipple/draw the image onto a blank canvas or cotton cloth. Once the pattern has been traced and filled to the desired scope and scale, the entire cloth goes into the dying vat. In traditional blue and white La Ran, the dye is a deep indigo blue which makes for eye-popping contract with the white under the wax.
You may remember doing crayon-resist painting when you were in elementary school. Wherever you had drawn with the crayon, the paint would slide off, thus only part of the image could be painted. In La Ran, the molted wax pattern serves the same purpose. Those areas with the wax resist the dye while the rest of the fabric takes on its deep midnight hue.
Once the dye is dried and set, the wax is washed away in hot water, leaving only the blue background and the white pattern.
Of course as with all art forms, La rang producing has not stopped here. to get more and different colors, repeated steps of dying, wax drawing and washing can ensue. Finally, some modern types of La Ran do not even look like the traditional wall hangings but rather more like waxy oil paintings – small and intricate. It is the latter kind of which I am particularly enamored.
The patterns of La Ran art vary but traditional animal, guardian spirit, and nature patterns are particularly common. Some of the modern designs include ornate and fantastic images, so intricate it is hard to believe it is done with a needle and wax.
Come and see a few La Ran (http://myworld.ebay.com/guizhoumarket) or, better yet, plan a trip to Anshun in Guizhou – the center of La Ran production and trade. Although La Ran is now big business, it is still a craft, done by hand and with great care and skill. Gotta love anything made with such devotion and care. Cheers comrades!