It was a chance encounter, my first meeting with Wang Jun. Joe Coca and I were in Guizhou Province, China, with a potential author, checking the area out for a couple of weeks. Wang Jun was our translator.
That book didn’t work out, but in the course of our travels, we became enchanted with the province, its people, its history and culture, its textiles. I wanted to go back! I wanted to spend time in the villages talking to artisans. I wanted to understand how their lives had allowed for the preservation of the astonishing skills they practiced. But I was an ignorant “big nose” (what they call Americans) with no language, no connections.
Except for Wang Jun. Or Jun, as he invited us to call him. Here was a man who had studied English at university, who had entered the travel industry so he could meet people from all over and see the world. While he is of the majority Han ethnic group, he had great relationships and friendships among the Miao, Shue, and other ethnic minorities that populate Guizhou. He had traveled extensively with Gina Corrigan, a British tour organizer who had deep knowledge of the textiles of the region. He had caught the passion.
The moment I understood this was when we walked into a batik (laran) workshop near Sandu. There was a traditional jacket hanging on the wall—very striking, but so was everything else— and Jun went completely nuts over it. He needed that jacket. He bargained, begged, cajoled, and eventually made a deal. Anyone who responds so personally, viscerally, to an old jacket and understands so much about it is someone who could help compile a book.
The next year I went back with my husband, who was a little jealous of the previous trip, and my ClothRoads friend Linda Stark and her husband. Jun organized our time and accompanied us. It was a great trip, despite the paucity of textile exposure (on account of those men we were traveling with), but he and I had a chance to talk about possibilities. Took us about 15 minutes to come to an agreement.
So year three, Joe, Karen Brock, and I went back to Guizhou Province. Jun had contacted traditional artisans in a dozen villages, representing a range of techniques. He had arranged third-party translators where he felt his language skills wouldn’t suffice. He had devised agreements and appropriate payments with the artisans, and he led the interviews. He regaled us with stories, took us to meet his family in Guiyang, fed us a shocking amount of great, seriously spicy food.
In the aftermath, Karen wrote the bulk of the actual text, consulting via WeChat with Jun along the way. Thanks to the two of them and Joe’s spectacular photographs, we have a book! Every Thread a Story and its companion book Secret Language of Miao Embroidery are on sale this April. Jun has not looked for personal glory in this project, just for a chance to share the wonders of Guizhou Province with the world.
We had planned a special journey to visit Guizhou this April and visit the artisans featured in Every Thread a Story. A dozen travelers had signed on to join us. Sadly, given the current situation in China, we are unable to take that trip at this time. We’re aiming now for April of 2021, and we hope to say more about that soon. In the meantime, we’re sending all our good wishes to Wang Jun and his family and to the artisans we’ve come to know in Guizhou. We look forward to seeing them again next year.
Pre-order Every Thread a Story and Secret Language of Miao Embroidery today.