Introduction

This exhibition is about silk, one of the most beautiful goods in the world. With a long history full of secret techniques and demand, silk had an important place in the ancient world. In this exhibition, you will learn: how silk is produced, how silk influenced trade, and the differences in Chinese silk products. Silk production began in ancient China, and according to myth, was discovered by Empress Leizu around 3000 BCE. This process (Called sericulture) may have even started a few millennium before this. However the stages and practices have stayed roughly the same, with only the technology used changing over time. Production begins when the silkworms begin to pupate, and form cocoons. These cocoons are sorted and then soaked, allowing them to unwind and for the filament to be collected. Next, the filament is formed into thread, which is wound into reels of silk, ready to be used. These reels would usually end up in looms, creating many different textiles, clothes and other prized items.  

Silk was a highly sought after commodity across the world. This led many traders to travel east to China throughout history, and the routes they took came to be known as the Silk Road. The Silk Road also fostered the spread of ideas. When the Silk Road existed almost entirely within the borders of the Mongol Empire, the routes served as a connection between China and Europe. Reports from this time colored Europeans’ perception of East Asia. These romanticized accounts increased demand for Chinese silk and other luxury goods. This led European merchants to search for sea routes to China and prompted trade between Europe and Japan.

In the page “silk products in China”, there are descriptions of differences of silk from many regions of China. China is the one who first brought silk to the world, so learning about Chinese silk can give you a basic idea about the beauty of silk. The Chinese term of silk is “Jin (锦)”, and it means beautiful and splendid. By comparing, you will learn both the differences and similarities of silk products among the three regions: “Yun Jin” from Nanjing, “Shu Jin” from Sichuan, and “Song Jin” from Suzhou. There will also be examples of different silk products in China, such as silk clothes, silk scrolls, and silk fans. Silk clothes are the most expensive ones that are only affordable by royal families in China, while silk fans and other silk products can also be found in Chinese commoner’s daily lives.

Introduction