Category Archives: How is the research going

Reflective report

Due to the garment industrialization and the lack of marketing promotion and innovation, zha-ran (a Chinese traditional stitch-resist tie-dye textile art form), one of the hidden jewels among Chinese intangible culture heritages, is started to disappear in our modern lives. From the journals I read and the interviews I had with zha-ran textile factories and museums, it also showed there is a tendency that young generation is no longer interested or aware of this 1500-thousand-year old tie-dye technique anymore. So ‘how to revive the sustainable development of Zha-ran among young generation?’ became to my question.

“It is so difficult these days to find young apprentices who can stay in our village and learn zha-ran.” Duan Shukun, the founder of Bai Ethnic Group zha-ran Museum in Dali, SW China and the owner of Puzhen Dali Tie-dye textile factory expressed his concerns when I was interviewing him. Based on my qualitative research, I found out zha-ran textile is losing the market share in fabric industry and facing the threat to pass on to the young generation.

Besides, as a journalist over 6 years in China, I noticed many of our precious cultural traditional heritages we have for ages are facing tremendous difficulties to survive nowadays.  Therefore, I devoted myself to do this project as a long-term practice and see if I could make any progress for the sustainable development of Chinese traditional textile art.

In the beginning of my research, I sent online questionnaires to college students to ask what’s their impression about tie-dye. “Cheap” and “hippy” are the most frequently used words for the description. And after I showed the pictures of Chinese zha-ran, most of them are surprised and described it as “elegant” and “artistic”, which I believe that is a good sign to bring the closer connection between traditional Chinese tie-dye and young generation.

Furthermore, I interviewed Wendy Garrity, the founder of Textile Trails website which shared various knowledge about textile culture around the world and she went to Dali to learn zha-ran and filmed it. After I talked about my research question and ideas, Wendy gave me positive feedbacks. “I do believe the potential of Chinese tie-dye and I think it is important to let more young people, especially the local to learn, to join.” Wendy said.

Online Museum

From the secondary research, I learnt that social media can play a very important platform for me to carry out my intervention to promote Chinese tie-dye. Therefore, I choose two most popular social media platforms, Tiktok and Instagram, to register Chinese tie-dye account, as an ‘online museum’ to show and share what zha-ran is and what innovative design we could have to arouse the attention for Chinese tie-dye. Due to the Covid situation, I had to count on my stakeholders to supply me firs-hand pictures and videos, so I can build up the basic structure of this ‘online museum’ to support my first-step intervention. Thanks to the support of Dali Zha-ran museum, the only national museum about Chinese tie-dye in China, I received a lot of original documents about Chinese tie-dye art pieces which I could use to edit and post on Tiktok and Instagram.

During the past few months, I received more and more likes and comments. “Before I only seen Zha-ran as a local souvenir in Yunnan to represent their Bai ethnic group culture. But the story behind made me want to know more about zha-ran. If I will have chances in the future, I would love to go to Dali and make one zha-ran scarf for myself.” Ziyi Wang, a Chinese college student commented on my Tiktok post. Also, I received very positive feedback from my stakeholders. “Young generations spend a lot of time on social media and by using social media promotion, more and more people came to buy our products online.” Hanmin Zhang, the owner of Lanxu Zha-ran Textile company in China told me.

Live broadcast

During the summer independent study period, I joined my stakeholders to do a live broadcast on Tiktok for Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival as another intervention. I used my expertise on media to help them organizing the content, taught them how to grasp follower’s attention and we made a huge success for a half-hour online show. The followers commented as “Chinese tie-dye is incredibly beautiful”, “this is our precious culture” “we need this organic lifestyle” and etc which inspired us tremendously. During the alive broadcast, we shared the purchase website link to the followers and we sold 856 pieces of Chinese tie-dye crafts by half-an-hour alive promotion. “Apparently if we want our next generation to know about zha-ran, we need to use their way to welcome them knowing our tradition. And we should do more this type of online activities in the near future to let more young people to join us.” Shukun Duan said after the show.

Innovative designs

At the same time, I also interviewed one of the most famous Chinese tie-dye artist Fanglu Lin. She is one of the 30 finalists for the Craft Prize 2020 organized by the Loewe Foundation and her artworks about Chinese tie-dye is going to be exhibited in Paris soon. “I saw the possibility of using tie-dye technique for self-expression which is quite important for our young generation.” As a young artist, she brought a lot of creative ideas and new designs for traditional Chinese tie-dye technique. “Actually, a lot of foreigners are fascinated by our traditional culture and the Chinese tie-dye sofa I designed earned a lot of popularity from international furniture buyers.” Fanglu Lin said.

And from the conversation I had with Zara Korutz, a fashion critic, she also mentioned that tie-dye is gaining popularity by designers from luxurious brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. From these luxurious brands’ new collections, we all can found tie-dye designs by their bags or garments, which is a very good sign for reviving Chinese tie-dye.

Zha-ran Butterfly Diffuser

By the interview with Fanglu, I started to think what kind of intervention can combine the traditional zha-ran with modern interior design together and attract people’s attention. I start to search and found out that “the global home fragrance market size is expected to reach USD 27.63 billion by 2027” (by Fortune Business Insights) which inspired me to create a home diffuser with zha-ran fabrics.

Customized zha-ran jewellery

When I keep going with the journey of exploring all the possibilities of zha-ran innovation, I noticed that young generation is very fond of unique or customized designs to present their identities. So now I came up with the idea of zha-ran 2020 Nature Collection. With the combination of tie-dye fabric and gold, the design conveyed the message of ‘the beauty of tradition’.

During the whole process of my exploration, I realized that there are a lot of opportunities to bring traditional tie-dye into our sight and Chinese zha-ran is not an “out-of-date” textile dyeing technique or a local craft but more like an artform and an expression that young generation can be interested and an organic lifestyle.

For my next-step intervention, I’m thinking to create an online platform to connect Chinese traditional tie-dye textile factories with young talent designers, fashion critics, artists to brainstorm more creative and innovative artworks to change the stereotype of Chinese tie-dye technique which has been seen as obsolete and ethnic souvenir. And I will try to talk to more stakeholders to see if I can make the Butterfly diffuser and zha-ran jewellery ideas into real business.

And I see this project as a long-term and sustainable project which I will keep making efforts to make progress. At the same time, I will keep gathering more stakeholders on board as a team to work on this project continuously and bring positive changes for the traditional textile art forms. And I believe I could use my project of Chinese tie-dye as a gesture to arouse people’s attention to rethink about our traditional culture and technique in old days and to open people’s mind to jump out of the box of stereotype.

Finding out What is Chinese tie-dye?

Due to the lack of awareness of zha-ran among young generation, I decided in the beginning of my intervention, I need to prepare all the documents, pictures or videos to show what is Chinese tie-dye, what Chinese zha-ran looks like.

Zha-ran, a Chinese tie-dye, is one of the most traditional textile dyeing techniques which is still popular by the Bai ethnic group people in Yunnan, Southwest China. This skill appeared over 1500 years ago in China and is still used today.

In 2006, zha-ran is entitled to The First Batch of China National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

In Dali, Yunnan province, there is a place named Zhoucheng, a small village where 99% are Bai ethnic group people who became the main producing place of Chinese tie-dyed cloth, known as ‘the living-fossil of Chinese tie-dye.’

The fabric used is normally white fabric made of cotton or linen. The dye was originally made of natural herbs ,especially with radix isatidis  root (Banlangen 板蓝根 in Chinese)that produce blue colour.

Blue and white are two principal traditional colours for tie-dye in China. In Bai ethnic group, they believe white represents lucky and blue represents hope. So the locals always use tie-dyed cloth for the new-born babies, bride gowns even grave-clothes.


1.The Inquiry of the Education and Inheritance system in Dali Zhoucheng Bai Ethnic Group Tie-dye Technique, Lu Zhiyan

2. The Cultural Connotation of Zha-ran Technique in Zhoucheng, Dal i

Tutorial with George


1. What: TITLE

1.1 Subject / area / theme

> These are the big words (e.g. creative collaboration, plastic recycling, empowerment, ambient design, sustainability in fashion, inclusivity, accessibility, wearable technology, primary education, cultural exchange, etc.)

Traditional textile sustainability, accessibility & popularity

Research more about organic

1.2 What it is within the subject area that you intend to focus on

> Your subject areas can be broad, so what key elements within your subject topic will you focus on?

The topic will be focused on how to promote Chinese traditional Zha Ran in modern age especially among young people

1.3 What is your ‘How can’ question?

> The question is the most important component of your research. What is your overarching question, that will act as guidance for your action research? The question will naturally develop over time.

How can Zha Ran(a traditional Chinese textile art form) keep sustainability in modern age and have bigger market share among young generation?

Gain popularity — preserving / revive this traditional technique

Creative experiment

Branded what is the one image represents Zha Ran

2. Why: TITLE

2.1 Why is this research project worth pursuing?

> Make sure it has not been done before, through research. It may certainly be a topic that has been explored but how will you tackle it differently?

Nowadays, we pay more and more attention on tradition preservation and Zha Ran is definitely one of the jewels from the crown of history which we need to make more efforts to make it shine.

But due to the lack of promotion and innovation, Zha Ran is disappearing in our lives. Only few craftspeople are still working on Zha Ran in Dali, SW China.

Compared with the growing of African and Indian tie-dye, Chinese tie-dye deserved more opportunity to gain the popularity. So how to make Zha Ran survive and more popular became an urgent and worthwhile topic to do further research.

2.2 Why will it bring positive change to the world?

> Your project will create positive change in the world if there is a need for this change

Zha Ran is one of the most traditional textile-dyeing techniques in China, which already has over thousands of years history. But we could see less and less Zha Ran in our modern use around the world, even in its hometown China.

So how to find a breakthrough for traditional Zha Ran technique in our modern world could bring a lot of positive reflection and sustainable development of cultural heritage protection.

2.3 Why is it important to you?

> Are you passionate about your project and excited to make it part of your life over the coming months?

I used to interview few craftsmen who are still using Zha Ran for clothes production. And when they were talking about the young people who are not interested about Zha Ran and it’s hard to find new apprentice to inherit the technique, I felt the calling of the responsibility to promote Zha Ran and do my best to see if I can make a difference.

3. How: TITLE

3.1 Background research

         a. What books, blogs, online articles/papers will you read? Make a list of these. This list will grow over time

         b. What films, theatre pieces, music performances, exhibitions, talks, TED talks or other interactive things will you engage with? These will differ and change as lockdown restrictions change

         c. User questionnaires (surveys)

1.Securing the past : conservation in art, architecture and literature /

Eggert, Paul

2.Digital applications for cultural and heritage institutions /

3.The future of the past: how the information age threatens to destroy our cultural heritage / Stille, Alexander

4. Heritage: critical approaches / Harrison, Rodney,

5. Made to Stick / Chip and Dan Heath

6. Comparing Research about the Beauty in Form between Fractal and Traditional Textile Patterns / Tang Ying

7. The Inheritance and Development of Ethnic Traditional Craftsmanship of Decorative Arts in Modern Garment Design / Yang Xiao Bing

8. Exploring textile arts: the ultimate guide to manipulating, coloring, and embellishing fabrics.

9. Sustainability and the social fabric Europe’s new textile industries / Clio Padovani, Paul Whittaker.

3.2 Questions that are intriguing and that you would like to answer. These will come up as a result of your research, and you can use these questions to develop interventions, to test with users and stakeholders. Make a list of these….

How many ways can promote Chinese traditional Zha Ran around the world?

What intervention can be used to innovate Zha Ran?

How can we attract young people increase the interest about Zha Ran?

How to branding Zha Ran to make it more popular among young people?

3.3 Users, who is your target user group(s). Think of how to approach them

Young generation

By online approach mostly

3.4 Stakeholders, who are your stakeholders. Think of how to approach them

Textiles factory              Mazdak Khoshdaman  Textile manufacturer in LA

Textile designers             Agne Jonynaite

Textile experts.                Wendy Garrity  Owner of Textile Trails

Art school.  

Fashion critics                  Matt Trueman Art journalist and theatre critic

E-commerce website        Lisa Founnder at LivingxLG

Government                     Dali local government, Yunnan government

3.5 Action research

         a. Intervention ideas (products/artefacts, workshops, other sessions that you would like to pursue`

         b. Small ideas

         c. Big idea

I googled Zha Ran or Chinese tie dye and there are only few materials to show about this technique.

So my intervention plan could be few steps ——

First I would like to build up a website include more information about Zha Ran, such as the film and photos about how to use Zha Ran, and the history, interviews about the craftsmen,etc.

Then based on the website, I would prepare questionnaires and collect feedbacks from target users and stakeholders.

From the feedbacks, I will keep develop the website and reach out to art schools to seek the opportunity of promoting Zha Ran.

After maybe create an online shop for customized Zha Ran crafts to attract more attention and exposure.

3.6 Challenges, make record of these as your project develops

4. What-if: TITLE

4.1 What happens if your project is successful?

I will make it a long-term sustainable project to promote more Chinese traditional arts and make more efforts to make ‘obsolescence’ become fashionable again.

4.2 How will your project be valuable to your users?

Textile is a way to express self-identity. And Zha Ran can be represented as a way of pursuing organic, natural and simple lifestyle which could be worshiping by a lot of young people.

And this project can arouse the attention from young generation to realize the importance of the traditional heritage protection.

4.3 How will your project be valuable to your stakeholders?

Zha Ran can be an exotic option for textile industry and it will be very catchy with the trendy of simple lifestyle. From the market, most stakeholders know about African and Indian tie dye, but Chinese tie dye could be a new excitement to explore.

4.4 Where would you like to be toward the end of your journey?

I would like to make this project into a long-term program that I can keep working on and branding.

What-Why-How-What If


When I was applying this major as my postgraduate programme last year, I presented my concerns about the conservation of Chinese ethnic group cultures in my study proposal. And after the study of unit 1 by this course, I learnt if I want to do a great research for my master or long-term project, the first step is I need to narrow down my interest into a more specific question as a good start. Considering the cultural heritage area I’m interested about is involved enormous objects, I would like to pick up textile art area first and address the question as ‘HOW ZHA RAN(A traditional tie-dye textile art form) CAN EARN MORE POPULARITY AMOUNG YOUNG GENERATION IN MODERN AGE ’


Along with the industrialization of textile production and fast urbanization development around the world, the old traditional skills are facing the worst threat or even started disappearing in our daily life. Besides, the cultural preservation is increasingly a topic of the international issue which governments, organizations and individuals paid more attention to. And personally, from the 6 years’ experience as a journalist, I noticed many precious cultural traditional heritages we have for generations are facing tremendous difficulties to survive.  Therefore, I would like to devote myself for this research project and see if I could make any progress for the sustainable development of traditional textile art.


I had done the mind map and I’m planning to use secondary research as the key to open the world about Zha Ran and approach the information base such as what’s the situation of the inheritance in Zha Ran skill, what’s the possibility of traditional Zha Ran development, how traditional textile art embrace the modern world attention and etc. Then I will use interviews based on my secondary research to reach out potential stakeholders to talk about potential chances of Zha Ran popularity development. Based on this process and feedbacks, I would like to organize some possible modules to present some ideas and make further testify and progress. In addition, the field research will also play an important role along with this project to receive real outcomes and improvements.  

What if

I’m planning to use this project to arouse people’s attention to rethink about the traditional textile art which we are neglecting these days. I would like to build up a platform to present the beauty of Zha Ran in a modern way and gain more popularity of this traditional textile art around the world. And I see this project as a long-term and sustainable project which I will keep making efforts to make progress. At the end of the course, I hope I can gather some certain number of stakeholders on board as a team to work on this project continuously after and bring positive changes for the traditional textile art forms.

A Proposed Reading List

1.Securing the past : conservation in art, architecture and literature /

Eggert, Paul

2.Digital applications for cultural and heritage institutions /

3.The future of the past: how the information age threatens to destroy our cultural heritage / Stille, Alexander

4. Heritage: critical approaches / Harrison, Rodney,

5. Made to Stick / Chip and Dan Heath

6. Comparing Research about the Beauty in Form between Fractal and Traditional Textile Patterns / Tang Ying

7. The Inheritance and Development of Ethnic Traditional Craftsmanship of Decorative Arts in Modern Garment Design / Yang Xiao Bing

8. Exploring textile arts: the ultimate guide to manipulating, coloring, and embellishing fabrics.

9. Sustainability and the social fabric Europe’s new textile industries / Clio Padovani, Paul Whittaker.

Few thoughts about Public interest in heritage

•Various late-modern accelerations and shifts in people’s relationship with the past—-a growth in the perception of vulnerability and uncertainty

•Shifting economic and demographic process of deindustrialisation leading to widespread redundancy of many forms of building and sites

•The development of ‘experience’ as a marketable commodity

•The growth of domestic and international leisure travel and the accompanying restructuring of the tourist gaze

•The diversification and segmentation of heritage to make it marketable to more varied audiences

•The widespread commercialisation of the past


Heritage Critical Approaches, Rodney Harrison

Heritage Cycle

The Heritage Cycle diagram gives us an idea how we can make the past part of our future (Simon Thurley, 2005). In a clockwise direction the wedges and arrows read:

  •  By understanding (cultural heritage)
    •     people value it 
  • By valuing it
    •     people want to care for it
  • By caring for it
    •     it will help people enjoy it
  • From enjoying it
    •     comes a thirst to understand 
  • By understanding it………..etc


  • Simon Thurley, Into the future. Our stategy for 2005-2010. In: Conservation Bulletin [English Heritage], 2005 (49).
  • ICOMOS, International Cultural Tourism Charter. Principles And Guidelines For Managing Tourism At Places Of Cultural And Heritage Significance. ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee. 2002.

What is heritage

Cultural Heritage is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. Cultural Heritage is often expressed as either Intangible or Tangible Cultural Heritage (ICOMOS, 2002).

•Heritage is a distinctly modern concern, in the sense in which the question of what is ‘old’ and what is ‘new’ belongs to a peculiarly modern sensibility. This sensibility arises from the experience of modernity and its relationship to time, ordering and uncertainty(or ’risks’) (Reference: Heritage Critical Approaches, Rodney Harrison )


The recent progress in conservation of cultural heritage in China is reflected in the ongoing consolidation of the foundation for its heritage work. China’s Third National Heritage Site Inventory, launched in the past decade and lasting four and one-half years, was the largest ever carried out in the country. Special surveys of the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, the Silk Road, and underwater heritage resources were conducted at the same time. As a result of these surveys, the number of registered immovable cultural properties soared from 300,000 to 760,000, while the number of state priority protected sites increased from 750 in 2000 to 4,296 today. In addition, the number of priority protected sites at regional and local levels also increased significantly.