Monday, April 20, 2015


Knowing my love for bears, when YT was in this part of the world, and I was out on a trip, and couldn't meet, she picked up a book at the shop and mailed it over to me- Xi Xi's 'About Sewing Bears'. (Xi Xi is a pseudonym for the author and poet Zhang Yan.) 西西的《缝熊志》。作者原名為张彦。 I'm not familiar with the author, except that she is very respected within the Chinese literary scene.

It's a little book about the author's thoughts and experiences in sewing mohair bears. The photos show beautifully dressed bears in Chinese historical costumes as well as modern human attire. The photos are nicely shot and those expressions on the bears are too cute. Pretty cool how the author-maker styled the bears. Such skills! In her writing, she also explains what the costumes mean, and a little bit on the background of the character each bear represents. The details on the costumes are largely accurate to known historical details.

No way am I going to sew a bear. I have zero interest and aptitude in craft and needlework. I could hem up a pair of jeans with the sewing machine, nip a button or two tight. That's all. I resented Home Economics classes in secondary school, paid classmates to help me sew or bake stuff, and obstinately flunked all examinations. Clearly, I'm sticking to buying bears. But at the moment, I've got a crazy ton of bears at home. Culled some, but I can't bear to throw most. (Pun fully intended.)

The book is set into chapters themed by some of the ancient dynasties of China where the author-maker dressed the bears in a central figure famous in the periods of Shang, Spring and Autumn, Warring States, Han, Tang, Song, all the way till Qing. She also made bears of fictional figures like Mulan (花木蘭) and characters/heroes from the Water Margin 《水滸傳》. The book is such a happy read and flip. Here're three of my favorites pictured below. These are favorites because of how the bears look, their costumes and accessories (swords, bows, musical instruments, etc), not because they're my favorite historical figures or story characters.

Clockwise from left: Genghis Khan, Madam Gongsun, Shi Jin.

1) Genghis Khan. The one man who united all the Mongol tribes and smoothened out trade along the Silk Road. His grandson Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty, becoming first non-Han ruler of China. The author-maker noted how history remembered Genghis Khan as a tyrant-ruler who united the lands but didn't win the hearts of the people, and of Han and non-Han tensions through the centuries. There wasn't a mention of the bear's clothes. But it looked really practical in surviving sandstorms. The bear carried arrows too, presumably in a quiver that couldn't be seen. 


2) Madam Gongsun. She was an accomplished dancer in the Tang Dynasty. She was famous for her 'Sword Dance'.  The bear was given an embroidered extravagant purple cloth armor and a headpiece typical of the era. The combination of deep purple, beads and sequins is quite breathtaking. The two leather shoulder straps are simply adorable. It's a 'mo er' (抹额); not sure what it's called in English. 


3) Shi Jin, one of the 108 outlaws from literary classic 'Water Margin'. Fond of wielding a staff or a broadsword/sabre, he is also known as 'Nine Tattooed Dragon'. He isn't particularly skilled. The author-maker didn't explain why she featured this character out of the horde, but the results are cute. Love the little black threads depicting tattoos, and the pants, and jauntily cocked black cap over one eye. Badass bear. 


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