Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 4 years 11 months ago

I am currently in Phase 3 of my Inquiry Project where I will be starting to do some background research on my topic: Everyday Clothing/Hairstyles/Fashion and Bai Minority Clothing and Fashion, which I selected in Phase 0. In Phase 1, I briefly answered some questions, determining what I wanted to learn about and what I already know.

Background Information (from Phase 1):

In Xizhou, the Bai locals dress very modestly, rarely wearing bright colours. However, the traditional red and white dresses contrast greatly, especially when complimented with darker colours, as the Bai like to accessorize with colours than the ones that they wear. The ethnic Bai dresses are intricately decorated, with camellia blossoms a popular design, as the camellia blossom symbolizes beauty. Usually, the dresses have detailed cross-stitch embroidery, and lace sewn onto the sides.Yet as decorated as the dresses are, they still give the Bai woman a clean and orderly look. White, as mentioned before, is a favoured color among the Bai, white signifies purity, dignity, and high status. Almost all Bai people will wear white in their everyday clothing. [4,1,3,5] The most prominent article of clothing in the Bai Minority is the headdress/headscarf that the women wear, typically all of the four elements are represented in the headdress. The headscarf is made into a crescent shape, which resembles the moon, but it is also seen as a "flower in the wind and the moon on a snowy evening"[5] The bottom half of the head scarf is adorned with embroidered flowers while the top half is left a fluffy white resembling snow. The tail of the scarf falls over the shoulder, following the wind's movement.[2,5]

Today traditional clothing is only worn for tourism, tourists love to see the beautiful and famous Bai clothing that has been made known all over China. Tourism has brought in money and new people into Bai villages. I will be exploring Bai Tourism and how that relates to the change in fashion over time. But sadly nowadays only older women wear traditional clothing by choice. Most young men and women wear more western and casual clothing.[1] Or clothing more fit for their job, as Bai farmers rarely wear a lot of white, because it will get dirty as they work.[3]

The Bai is famous for their Batik/tie-dye/wax printing. The process described from "Chinese Batik: Wax Printing" is different from Vicky's interview of Mr. Zhou, I will include both processes. First, you paint on the pattern, then you sew along the lines of your pattern, and pull it tight, you can then scrunch up the parts you do not want to stain with dye with the remaining string. After that, you dip the cloth into the hot dye and leave it there for a little while. Finally, you take the cloth out, dry it and rinse it. The wax printing process is slightly different, instead of sewing you put hot wax on the areas of the cloth you do not want to stain with dye. When the wax is fully dry, you soak the cloth in a cold dye. Finally, it is dried and rinsed in hot water, as the hot water melts the wax. Both of these methods produce beautiful tie-dyed pieces that the Bai are famous for around the world. [2,7]

Hairstyles: For unmarried girls they have their hair in a ponytail, with a red string tied around it, sometimes the string will circle the girl's head. Some teenage girls, though, they have their hair braided into a pigtail, sometimes coiled around their head. While married women have their hair in a tight knot on their heads.[1,5]

Traditional Clothing:

  • Symbols in clothing- Moon, flower, snow, wind, the camelia flower
  • Colours- Dark blue, white (as white in Chinese is Bai), red
  • Materials- Velvet, hemp, cotton, silk
  • Clothing they wear depends on -- age, marital status, social status, gender
  • Embroidery designs and accessories include an apron, headdress/head scarf, sleeveless short jacket, a belt, and nature, and floral based patterns (camellia flowers, birds, butterflies...)
  • Bai batik (tie-dye): wax printing and sewing method

Information from 3-to-5's:

Zhang Ayi: Interviewed on May 2nd, 2016[10]
Zhang Ayi told me that a lot of people have not been wearing traditional clothes anymore and that Zhang Ayi's grandmother, as far as her memory goes, has not been wearing traditional clothing. When I asked about the people that still wore Bai Minority Clothing, she told me that the only people who still wore the clothing were dancers or for tourism purposes. She also told me that the traditional clothing that the locals usually wore included covering their necks, wearing a qipao like shirt that was cut short to the waist, buttons that went down the side instead of the middle, and aprons tied around their waists. Another thing that I found interesting, was she told me that all clothing today are 机绣 versus clothing that used to be 手绣.

Miss Zhang: Interviewed on May 2nd, 2016[9]
Miss Zhang told me that men's clothing has not changed that much, that men today still wear a vest. And that most young women today just mostly wear typical Han attire. But she also told me that in the food market, most ladies still wear traditional clothing, usually darker colours such as blue so it does not get dirty easily. She also told me that today in festivals, the clothing is already becoming more Han but also using Bai aspects to make the clothing. While the everyday clothing has already become Dali style clothing, with loose and comfortable pants, instead of the traditional Bai clothing.

Mr. Tafel: Interviewed on May 3rd, 2016[8]
Mr. T started out by telling me about the difference between local Bai people and tourists, that to not be fooled by people who are wearing bright, colourful clothing, they are likely only wearing the clothing for tourism purposes. Mr. T told me to look for authenticity, that many tie dye and clothing today are out solely for tourism. He told me that ZhouCheng a tourism town had 100-200 tie dye factories years back while now there are only 3-4. Xizhou even used to have one that is gone now. 

Information from Local Contacts:

Mrs. Zhao: Interviewed on May 5th, 2016[11]

Mrs. Zhao gave me lots of information, though some of it overlaps with my background research:

  • The Bai Minority clothing ensemble consists of a short apron, vest, red shoes and a white undershirt and pants
  • The ankles of the pants, the vests, and aprons are typically covered with hand sewn flowers
  • All Bai traditional clothing today has to have white which most of the time is the undershirt and the pants
  • The Bai clothing has gotten more colourful over the years, with clothing today red, blue, green, pink...
  • There are different clothes for the older woman than the younger woman, with the elderly women's clothing more conservative and with darker colours
  • The very, very old and traditional clothing used to be black and red
  • The bottom garment used to be pants and the sleeves used to be longer but nowadays many wear skirts and have shorter sleeves
  • Bai clothing is typically made with Ma Sha (麻纱)
  • The undershirt in the traditional Bai ensemble is longer in the back and shorter in the front
  • Women are called JinHua and the Men are called APeng
  • The only difference between men's clothing is that they do not have an apron
  • Nowadays only the older women still wear the traditional attire, so many consider what they wear to be the real minority clothing, as the bright white and red garb is only used for tourism purposes, festivals, or is needed for your occupation (dancers, museum staff, clothing shop owners)
  • Young women today wear the Han clothing just like people back in Shanghai
  • The head scarfs tail is longer if you are single, shorter if you are married, even shorter if you have had children, and there is no tail to the head scarf on elderly woman at all
  • Batik is very important to their culture, there are two methods, sewing/tie-dye and wax printing
  • Wax printing is basically like painting on the cloth
  • Many like to use sewing method tie-dyed cloth as shawls, table clothes, or head scarves while wax printing is used on smaller pieces of cloth as decoration
  • Younger women do not like to wear the traditional clothing anymore because it traps heat, it is very layered, inconvenient, warm and not attractive or fashionable, instead, they opt for the newer, more fashionable trends from the Han
  • Embroidery is used for pillow cases and bedding

Ms. Xu, Mr, Hao, Ms. Duan, Ms. Yang: All interviewed on May 9th, 2016 [12,13,14,15]

Ms. Xu, Mr, Hao, Ms. Duan, and Ms. Yang are all farmers working in the garlic fields. I gathered some information from them:

  • Head scarves are part of the traditional attire for people in the village 沙村 by the ocean
  • For people who live by the ocean, they like to wear blue, purple, or green
  • When working they wear clothing with more coverage (longer sleeves, longer pants) because of the damage from the sun
  • While they are not working they wear less
  • Older women tend to wear more clothing when working with a vest, long pants, and an apron, this is because they are used to the clothing
  • Many who still wear head scarves only wear it outside, at home they dress comfortably
  • Some like to wear a headscarf under their wide-brim hats, to protect themselves from the sun, wind, and cold
  • Older women tend to stick to the clothing that their ancestors traditionally wore while younger women like to stick to the new trends and fashion
  • I have also noticed that even though many of the older women and men I have met around the village are Bai, they do not wear white
  • The traditional and everyday clothing of the Bai changes accordingly to the area

Miss. Qiu Yan: Interviewed on May 6th, 2016: Most of the information she told me, matched with what Ms. Zhao told me. [16]

  • A traditional custom for Bai girls is to keep their hair very long, so they can braid it into a very long braid after they coil it around their head. Bai women also like to braid a red string into their hair.
  • Dark blue is a very important color for the Bai
  • Tie-dyed cloth is typically used as a head scarf
  • Girls today like to wear their hair in a casual ponytail

Ms. Yang: Interviewed on May 10th, 2016: Owns a traditional clothing and batik shop and a food stand

  • Many Bai older women make their own clothing
  • Many Bai older women do not wear the headscarf anymore
  • Married women in Zhou Cheng typically wear a pair of jade circle earrings with a red bead
  • Young women these days wear the traditional clothing about 2 or 3 times a year
  • Sometimes Bai people like to wear includes tie-dyed pants and shirts that they dye and sew themselves, but they are mostly to attract tourists
  • While the Bai like to use the dyed cloth as an apron or head scarf
  • The traditional blue color comes from the plant Ban Lan Gen (板蓝根) other colours like green, red, and purple use Cao Mu (草木)
  • Ban Lan Gen is a plant, which they soak for two weeks for the dye
  • Most shops use machines for the embroidery as hand-made embroidery costs about 200 RMB

  • Locals like the dark blue as it is a traditional color
  • Common patterns are the 绣球花 and butterflies, the butterflies are an important pattern as there is a famous attraction called the butterfly pond in Dali
  • The advertised traditional red and white Bai Clothing is about 100 for adults

Miss. Ma: Interviewed on May 10th, 2016: Miss Ma is a Muslim modern clothing shop owner [17]

  • Many of them have special clothing for prayers
  • Her shop is mostly viewed by locals
  • She thinks that more people have come to buy fashionable Han clothing because more shops and trends have made it to the village and people are starting to get more affluent that they can afford these clothes
  • Most of the modern shops are only recently opened including hers which has only opened for 1 year
  • The age range for her shop is 16 to 60 years old

Mr. Min: Interviewed on May 9th, 2016: Mr. Min is a traditional clothing shop owner [18]

  • Older Bai Minority locals go and have their clothes made in Zhou Cheng
  • The traditional clothing in his shop is not really traditional but tweaked to attract tourists
  • The clothing is now more loose fitting and with fewer layers
  • The actual traditional clothing is hard to sell because many Bai Minority people get it made and usually costs a few thousand RMB
  • All locals go into the city to buy clothes
  • Many of the wax printings are traditional folk tales, stories, and legends
  • His clothes are typically sold for 60-80 RMB
  • The longest selling piece of clothing is the loose fitting tie-dyed pants that many locals like to wear
  • Embroidery is important because it holds meaning, life used to be hard for many commoners in Xizhou and embroidery symbolized wealth and good-living
  • Embroidery was like the designer clothing in the past
  • Clothes usually have embroidered butterflies or peonies
  • Batik usually has designs of geometric shapes, 绣球花, butterflies, and money

Ms. Yang, Ms. Zhang: A passing Bai traditional local and a shop owner in Zhou Cheng [20] [21]

  • The older you are the shorter the trail of the headscarf is, and if you are even older it is blue
  • If you are very old you have to cover your braid
  • But they determine old or young by whose grandchildren are older and whose are younger
  • The jade earrings that Bai women wear are their dowry
  • It is forbidden for Bai women to wear white for their weddings, and it is common for them to wear red
  • Nowadays the sleeves have changed, originally sleeves were not bright pink, red, green, or blue like many of the advertisements show today and they did not have the embroidered flower. The following picture shows some of the newer sleeves with the embroidered camellia flower.

  • The traditional sleeves had dark blue embroidery and were very simple with blue lines

  • The belt is a flexible band that keeps the apron up
  • They wear white at funerals, many of the times with dark blue
  • Their shop is mostly visited by locals
  • The average price is a few hundred RMB for a complete Bai traditional outfit
  • During the cultural revolution, there were a few changes, the outfits were more drab, red was barely worn, and tie-dyed cloth liked to be worn during the cultural revolution
  • Some of the articles of clothing such as the vest and apron are still made with tie-dyed cloth
  • Clothing used to use cotton, now there are uses of silk and Ma Sha
  • Many younger Bai women do not want to wear the clothing also because the white cloth gets dirty easily and is hard to wash
  • The tourism has encouraged the preservation of Bai culture
  • The older women have their clothing made, and the cost is usually a few thousand compared to the outfits that cost a few hundred in the shop, usually the only difference is hand sewn and machine sewn

Ms. Zhang and Grandma Duan: They both own a clothing shop [22,23]

  • The not only braid their hair with red yarn but they wrap a piece of pink yarn around it
  • The flowers on the headdress have to be hand sewn
  • Many older women also have the choice to not wear a headdress and just wear a headscarf
  • After the cultural revolution, the younger revolution stopped wearing the traditional clothing
  • Because of tourism, there has been a new set of tweaked clothing made to attract tourists
  • Hand sewn headdresses can reach 600 RMB
  • The difference between the hand sewn and machine sewn is very small, but the hand sewn sometimes has uneven lines but it looks more realistic and unique, the machine sewn has really precise stitches
  • One of the differences between the cheap and expensive headdresses are the sequined flowers which have to be hand sewn
  • Their shop usually has more local customers

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

1. How is the traditional clothing of the Bai designed and made?
The traditional clothing is not really what I expected it to be when I first came to Xizhou. First off, the real Bai clothing are not dresses but an undershirt, pants, a vest, an apron, and a belt. Not all the traditional dresses are red and white, and their not all designed and made the same way. I know now that there are two differences between how the outfits are made, some are machine sewn and some are hand sewn. The designs are usually according to what the person wants, but there is usually a camelia flower on the sleeve, or in the really traditional outfit, a simple dash pattern. There are also usually embroidered flowers and butterflies on the outfit. The butterflies are an important design to the Bai because of the butterfly well/pond in Dali, a famous tourist site.

2. What is the Bai Batik and how is it made?
The Bai batik is divided into two groups, the wax printings (蜡染) and the tie-dyed printings (扎染). The wax printings are basically like paintings used for decoration, they usually show old Bai folk tales and myths. The tie-dyed printings are actually used as clothing and sometimes used as a shawl or blanket. As for how they are made, I have already described the process in my background information.

3. How is the Bai tie-dye and embroidery important to the Bai minority and their clothing?
As I have already included in my answer in Phase 1, batik and embroidery is a way of living for the Bai, many have had generations and generations making a living off of embroidery and tie-dye. Embroidery also used to symbolize wealth and a good living so it is important for many traditional Bai women to have embroidery on their clothes. Tie-dyed cloth is also used in the traditional clothing, and most Bai people wear tie-dyed shirts and pants with traditional patterns as casual clothing.

4. What do the Bai/Xizhou people wear or how do they style their hair on an everyday basis?
The older Bai generation usually has their hair braided with red string, coiled around their heads, and wrapped around with a pinkish-red string. While the younger generation normally styles their hair in a ponytail or some casual hairstyle.

5. Why do they wear these clothes or style their hair in a particular way?
The younger generation wears the clothes they do because the traditional clothing and hairstyles are inconvenient for their work, and it is warm, stuffy, and uncomfortable. The older generation sticks to their traditions because it is what they are used to and when they do not, they feel out of place and underdressed. When I was at Zhou Cheng, I observed that the people there would not take a photo with us unless they had their headdresses on.

6. How does the everyday fashion/hairstyles in Xizhou differ from what we wear in Shanghai?
The everyday clothing of the younger generation does not differ much from what we wear back in Shanghai, except back in Shanghai, there is more demand for designer clothing and chic hairstyles. The older generation still wears their traditional attire which is not seen that much in Shanghai's minority population. 

7. What factors can affect the clothing you wear/how does personality, upbringing, and environment affect the clothing you wear?
I have not done a lot of research on my topic and I feel like my answer in Phase 1 covers most of what I already know about. Except here in Xizhou, I explored how occupations and environment can affect the clothing worn. People with rough jobs such as farmers, rarely wear white even if it is their culture. Instead, they have started a new trend of traditional clothing without they themselves knowing it. It has become traditional to wear a headscarf under a wide brim hat to protect themselves from sunburns, dust, and the wind. It has become traditional for farmers to wear long sleeves, long pants, and dark colours (especially blue) to prevent their clothes from getting dirty easily and protect themselves from the sun. The same goes for the morning market women. Another example are the tourism related jobs, it has helped them preserve their culture and many Bai women who do not wear traditional clothing on an everyday basis, wear it for work. It has also increased business for traditional Bai clothing shops which will lead to the preservation of Bai clothing a few generations later even when very little people still wear the traditional attire.

8. How has the tourism affected everyday clothing/traditional clothing?
It has helped them preserve their culture and many Bai women who do not wear traditional clothing on an everyday basis, wear it for work. It has also increased business for traditional Bai clothing shops which will lead to the preservation of Bai clothing a few generations later even when very little people still wear the traditional attire.

9. How has the traditional/everyday clothing of the Bai changed over the years?
The clothing has gotten more complex and with more intricate designs. There used to be less embroidery and the original sleeves of the undershirt did not have the camelia flower like the advertised dresses do but a much simpler dark blue pattern. The younger generation has also started to wear the Han clothing like we do and started chasing fashion trends.

10. Why has the Bai everyday clothing/traditional clothing changed?
The clothing has changed because as Xizhou has gotten more developed, the people have gotten more affluent and can afford to buy the new trends and fashion. While the clothing that the older generation wears has not changed.


1. Online: Livia K. Phase 3: Interpreting Information,, accessed 1 March 2016.
2. Zhou, Cheng. Personal interview conducted by Vicky H., March 2013.
3. Online: Madeleine V. Phase 3: Interpreting Information,, accessed 1 March 2016.
4. Online: "The Bai Ethnic Clothing." Cultural China,, accessed 4 March 2016.
5. Online: Wu, Annie. "Bai Minority." China Highlights,, 20 August 2014, accessed 4 March 2016.
6. He, Frank. Personal interview conducted by Livia Z., 18 March 2015.
7. Online: Wu Annie. "Chinese Batik: Wax Printing." China Highlights,, 15 December 2014, accessed 7 March 2016
8. Tafel, Craig. Personal interview conducted by Nicole L., May 2016.
9. Zhang, Cecily. Personal interview conducted by Nicole L., May 2016
10. Zhang Ayi. Personal interview conducted by Nicole L., May 2016
11. Ms. Zhao. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
12. Ms. Xu. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
13. Mr. Hao. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
14. Ms. Yang. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
15. Ms. Duan. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
16. Miss. Qiu Yan. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
17. Ms. Yang. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
18. Miss. Ma. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
19. Mr. Min. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
20. Ms. Yang. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
21. Ms. Zhang. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
22. Ms. Zhang. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016
23. Grandma Duan. Personal interview conducted by Nicole., May 2016

Now I am ready to move on to Phase 4, I have gathered enough information to start my outline and final product, and have a clear idea of what I am going to produce as the result of my 28-day journey. Here is a link to Phase 4, if you want to continue reading about my journey.

Hi, I'm Nicole L. I was part of Group Phenomena, and my Microcampus journey is now over. I am currently back from Xizhou. I have now left Shanghai American School but I will forever remember Xizhou, as it was one of the best months of my life. You will not regret coming to Xizhou, and I wish future Microcampus students a journey as amazing as mine!