A Brief History of Chinese Embroidery 6. Carrying Forward the Cause and Forging Ahead into Future—the Yuan Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty (1271–1644)

FIG. 24 Withered Trees, Bamboos, and Rocks M

As discovered in the many years of embroidery research of the Yuan Dynasty, there was a kind of unique fishing-net embroidery which is rarely seen and known in the following generations. It is evidence of dividing history into dynastic periods for appraising and appreciating ancient embroidery, having a far- reaching significance on studying and perceiving embroidery in the Yuan Dynasty (FIG. 23).

FIG. 23 B An Embroidered Pad of Flow
FIG. 23 B An Embroidered Pad of Flower Patterns Yuan Dynasty                  Needlework for the lotus flowers, lotus leaves, white geese, and butterflies on the surface is ordinary, except that the triangle decorative fringes around are quite special. This kind of needlework is similar to fishing-net stitch. Therefore, it is called fishing-net embroidery. This embroidered article is now preserved in the Museum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.



There were no schools of embroidery to speak of in the Ming Dynasty, only with Gu-Style Embroidery (gu xiu, embroidery in southern China) and Shandong Embroidery (lu xiu, embroidery in northern China) as representatives.

Shandong Embroidery inherited relatively rough and uninhibited features of embroidery for appreciation in the Yuan Dynasty and used double-ply threads. In most cases, a whole thread was used for embroidery. The layout was natural and vivid thanks to direct application of bright colors and the characteristics of freedom and dignity, hence becoming the best among all kinds of embroidery in northern China. Long-standing and classic works of Shandong Embroidery are none other than Hibiscus and Two Ducks and Mandarin Ducks amidst the Lotus Pond, etc.

Gu-Style Embroidery inherited the delicate application of silk embodied in the embroidered calligraphy and paintings of Song Dynasty embroidery, marked by the application of soft and tender colors as well as extremely thin threads through thread division. Enjoying much pursuit, appreciation, and admiration of scholars and men of letters, Gu-Style Embroidery influenced the style of embroidery in southern China.

The founder of Gu-Style Embroidery was Miao Ruiyun, one of the womenfolk of the Gu family. Withered Trees, Bamboos, and Rocks is the only real object left behind as an evidence of her embroidery art (FIG. 24).

FIG. 24 Withered Trees, Bamboos, and Rocks M
FIG. 24 Withered Trees, Bamboos, and Rocks Ming Dynasty Gu-Style Embroidery                               Miao Ruiyun, a concubine of the Gu family in the Luxiang Garden, was already good at embroidery of the Song Dynasty when she was a girl. Inheriting the excellent tradition of embroidery of the Song Dynasty, she made innovation in needlework application, color- matching, and material selection. At that time, there was already the saying that “Gu-Style Embroidery started from Miao Ruiyun in Shanghai.” This embroidered article is now preserved in the Shanghai Museum.


Gu-Style Embroidery in early years was basically for family collection or given as gifts. Female embroiderers in the Gu family strive for appreciation, or it could be further viewed as pursuit of upper-class women for art attainment. In terms of embroidery art among female embroiderers in the Gu family, the most representative embroiderer was none other than Han Ximeng, grand daughter-in-law of Gu Mingshi. All her embroidered landscape, human figures, flowers, and birds were “exclusively exquisite.”

From the very beginning, Gu- Style Embroidery endeavored to imperceptibly take the lead in the concept of creation for artistic embroidery. As a result, folk embroidery started to truly form new channels for developing artistic embroidery, bringing new prospects of growth to folk embroidery lasting for over 1,000 years.