Silk is obtained from the cocoon of the silkworm. Thanks to its complex weaving, silk fabric is made from it.
More than 5,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Chinese were the first to cultivate mulberry trees, breed silkworms, unwind silk threads and weave silk fabric. More than 2,000 years ago, silk opened the way for economic and cultural exchange between East and West, and silk itself witnessed the emergence of Eastern civilization on the world stage. Today, silk culture, as an important part of the outstanding traditional Chinese culture, is playing an increasingly prominent role in the modern international scene.
In Ancient Greece, people created the image of a flying winged horse, the prototype of which was the mythical hybrid creature Pegasus. This image also appeared in China as a design on the surface of ancient Greek pottery, becoming one of the common patterns on silk fabrics along the ancient Silk Road. In the ancient city of Antinous in the coastal region of the Mediterranean, the Sogdiana region in Central Asia, as well as in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Qinghai and Gansu provinces (Northwestern China), archaeologists found many fragments of silk fabric with the image of a winged horse. Similar specimens of silk are kept in the Chinese National Silk Museum, the Museum of Textile Art in Lyon, France, and the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, Japan. The appearance of this image of a mythical creature in different eras on various material media reflects the naive fantasy of people, as well as their desire for freedom, speed and strength.
In 2020, after the approval of the joint application of China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to include one of the main routes of the Great Silk Road, the network of routes of the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, an international humanitarian event “Week” was held on the initiative of the Chinese National Silk Museum Silk Road. Since then, the event has been held annually for 4 years in a row in different countries along the Silk Road and in various provinces of China. More than 200 cultural organizations and over 20 million visitors from 22 countries took part in it. The recognizable image of a flying horse became the inspiration for the design of the Silk Road Week logo, emphasizing the importance of the Silk Road in promoting cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries and the interaction between civilizations of the East and West.
The Great Silk Road, stretching for thousands of kilometers, existed for thousands of years. In the 2nd century AD, the highest quality Chinese silk brought to Rome sold for 12 ounces of gold per pound, meaning 454 grams of silk was equivalent to 340 grams of gold. Thus, this “soft gold” was one of the most valuable textile goods in Europe. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy, houses the Flora fresco, excavated in the ancient city of Pompeii, where the goddess is depicted in a beautiful silk outfit.
Historical documents contain many references to how Western countries mastered silk production technologies. For example, the book “Journey to the Western Land during the Great Tang” tells the story of a princess who brought silkworms to the country of the Western Land. Along with the spread of technologies for raising silkworms and silk weaving, peoples of different countries created bright and original national costumes. To this day, traditional clothing in many countries, including Indian saris, Vietnamese ao dai and Arab robes, is often made of silk.
As the first country in the world to invent and use silk, China is increasingly recognized internationally for the fine skill and wisdom accumulated in the field of sericulture and silk production. In particular, the traditional Chinese technologies of silkworm rearing and silk production, as well as the Yunjin brocade weaving technique in the city of Nanjing (Jiangsu Province, Eastern China), included in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, represent the highest level of textile crafts of the ancient world. Intangible cultural heritage items of national significance such as Sichuan brocade, Yunjin brocade, Song brocade, Zhuang brocade, patterned silk, Suzhou embroidery and many others carry a deep history and indicate the continuity of Chinese silk culture.
In the modern world, the variety of silk products demonstrates technological innovation in the silk industry and reflects the rapid flowering of silk art. At the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU World Summer Universiade, held recently in Chengdu (Sichuan Province, Southwest China), technology was used to create a visual image of a path made of Sichuan brocade and embroidery. This symbolizes how youth around the world are uniting to build a common future. The medal ribbons for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics were also made from nature.
Silk has an ancient history. It has evolved from an original commodity to a link connecting China and the outside world. In the future, silk will maintain its strong vitality on the international stage.
(The author of the article is a researcher at the Zhejiang Province Silk and Fashion Culture Research Center at Zhejiang University of Technology, and the editor-in-chief of the Silk magazine).
Source: “People’s Daily” online http://www.people.com.cn/