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Fish-Skin Clothes

Hezhe, also called Heijie, Heizhen and Nanai in history, is the only ethnic group in North China that lives by hunting and fishing. Hezhe people, who make up one of China's smallest ethnic minorities (population of 4,000), used to wear clothing made of fish skins and used dogs for hunting, earning the titles of Yupi Tribe (Fish Skin Tribe) and Shiquan Tribe (Dog-using Tribe). Dispersed around the three major river valleys in Heilongjiang Province -- Heilong, Songhua and Wusuli.Hezhe, Hezhe men are skilled in chasing game in sleds and Hezhe women make beautiful clothes out of fish skins.

Hezhe clothing resembles that of the Hans. The only difference lies in the material they use. In the past, Hezhe garments were either mostly made of fish or deer skins, among which the fish-skin dresses were most unique. These fish-skin dresses were considered the national costume worn by Hezhe women people.

The process of making fish-skin clothing is very interesting. First, the full skin of a silver carp or chub is removed and dried. Then, the scales are eliminated and the skin is hammered down with a wooden mallet to make it as soft as cotton cloth. Lastly, the fish skin is sewn together with silver carp skin threads and made into clothes.

Influenced by the Manchus, the Hezhe clothing style resembles the cheongsam. The dress reaches past the knees and has loose and short sleeves, with no collar. The dress and trousers are wide, trimmed with colored cloth, embroidered with patterns, or decorated with copper bells. Fish-skin trousers are made differently for males and females. Big fish, weighing about 50 kilograms, are good for making trousers. Fish-skin trousers are durable and, at the same time, resistant to cold weather and water.

Apart from clothing made of fish skin, the Hezhe people also make dresses made of either deerskin or roe skin. They often wear fur caps and thick boots made of bearskins and birch bark during winter.

With the improvement of living conditions, the material and design of the clothes of the Hezhe people have changed dramatically. Nowadays, cotton is the frequently used material for clothes.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Hezhes developed new modernized living way and lifestyle, and fish skin clothes were fading out the Hezhes' life.

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