Silk: Traveling the Silk Road

  In the history of cultural exchanges between China and the West, silk played an initial and extremely important role. It was through the colorful silk that Westerners came to know China, an ancient civilization in the East. Since Zhang Qian went to the Western Regions in 119 BC, a large amount of Chinese silk has spread to the countries in the Western Regions through the Silk Road. Academia generally believes that there are two main Silk Roads, one is the “Land Silk Road” from Chang’an to Rome (in a narrow sense, the Overland Silk Road is the Desert Oasis Silk Road, and in a broad sense it also includes the Prairie Silk Road, the Southwest Silk Road, The East Asian Silk Road), and the other is the “Maritime Silk Road” from the coast of China to southeastern Africa. These two Silk Roads have connected various countries along the route for a long time, and have carried out frequent economic and cultural exchanges with each other, enriching the material and cultural life of various countries, and promoting social development. Silk is the Silk Road. The key reasons for getting up and running and growing.

Fragments of Chinese silk fabrics unearthed from a Yangshao cultural site in Qingtai Village
Silkworm rearing and reeling originated in China

  China is the first country in the world to invent sericulture and reeling. In 1984, the earliest objects of Chinese silk fabrics were unearthed at a Yangshao cultural site in Qingtai Village, Xingyang County, Henan Province—a few plain weave and light purple silk with sparse organization. Zhiluo, these silk fabric fragments can be traced back to 5500 years ago. Similar sites are not uncommon in China. For example, the Yangshao Cultural Site of Xiyin Village in Shanxi Province and the Qianshanyang Site of Wuxing County, Zhejiang Province have unearthed silk fabrics. It can be seen that silk has been widely used as a fabric material at that time, marking the primitive inhabitants of China during the Neolithic Yangshao Culture period. It has already started to raise silkworms. In the Shang Dynasty, silk reeling technology was quite mature. In the Zhou Dynasty, there were special silkworms for raising silkworms. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, there were already jacquard looms. China’s sericulture and reeling technology has long been a world leader, making great contributions to the development of the world’s sericulture industry.

Urn coffin of carbonized silk unearthed from Wanggou site

Ivory silkworm unearthed from Shuanghuaishu site

  ”Serial farming and mulberry farming” and “women’s weaving” have always been the characteristics of traditional Chinese agriculture. The silk industry is the pillar industry of the traditional society. During the Tang Tianbao period, the amount of silk accepted by the imperial court accounted for about one-third of the country’s total tax revenue. The emergence of a new type of independent silk weaving workshop – “machine households” is a sign of the prosperity of the silk weaving industry in the Song Dynasty. After the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the silk industry in the south developed rapidly, and the Taihu Lake basin has become the main commercial silk producing area in the country. In the late Ming Dynasty, the so-called “budding capitalism” represented by the silk weaving industry even appeared in the south of the Yangtze River. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty stated in the preface to the “Silkworm Fu”: “The supply of silk threads in the world is all in the southeast, and the prosperity of sericulture is only in this area.” I want to give it, but silk is my responsibility.” Historically, silk (raw silk) has always been the bulk of China’s exports, until 1718, when tea surpassed raw silk and ranked first in terms of export value.
  Before the mid-19th century, China’s raw silk exports to Europe accounted for more than 70% of the raw silk imports in the entire Western market for a long time. Ming Wang Shimao said in “Min Bu Shu”: “The silk of Fuzhou, the silk of Zhang… The ones who sailed to the sea are especially incalculable, and they are all clothed and covered by the world.” However, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, China The dominant position in silk production was replaced by Japan. After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government attached great importance to the development of the silk weaving industry, and made the Japanese economy prosperous by opening up the foreign raw silk market. Japan has rapidly transformed from a backward traditional country to a modern capitalist country. Japanese raw silk accounts for 70% of the western silk market. The silk industry is known as the “meritorious industry” of Japan’s economic take-off.
  Today, silk is produced in about 40 countries and regions in the world, the most important being China, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Thailand. China remains the largest silk producer in the world, with its annual output accounting for more than 70% of the world’s total.

Silk Road sculptures in the ancient city of Xi’an
The most sought-after silk in the West

  In ancient Greece and Rome, Westerners knew about China’s silk. They called silkworms “Ser”, so they called China “Seres” (Silk Country). silk. In modern times, the German geographer Richthofen also named the “Silk Road” accordingly.
  The Mediterranean area was the first area in the Western world that came into contact with Chinese silk. The first real encounter between the Romans and Chinese silk dates back to BC, and silk was gradually spread to the west through the hands of the Parthians, Huns and other middlemen. A familiar story is that of the gorgeous fabric owned by Julius Julius Caesar—the appearance of silk shook the Roman aristocracy. There are several versions of the story. The protagonist is Julius Caesar. The well-informed Roman aristocrats have praised the softness and gorgeousness of silk, which shows the rarity of silk. The Romans dressed in linen and wool never imagined that there was such a gorgeous fabric as silk, and all treasures were eclipsed by silk.
  Under the temptation of silk, a series of butterfly effects were set off, and a large number of silk merchants came one after another, achieving a prosperous situation of “businessmen and merchants, Japanese money under the plug”. This one-way journey takes nearly a year. Routes can’t stop businessmen either.
  The silk craze in the West is the most prosperous in Rome, and the speed of spread is also amazing. Not only the Roman ladies, but also Roman men also pursue silk. Perhaps because of the extravagance that silk brought, or because it was suspected of sensuality, the Roman senate thought that silk had ruined their reputation. In AD 14, the senate decreed that men were forbidden to wear silk, and women’s use of silk was also restricted. But it was the heyday of Rome, which was especially extravagant, and the whole society was shrouded in the ethos of spending money and pursuing fashion. Silk was repeatedly banned, and the style of wearing silk permeated all classes, even porters and errands also wore silk. During the reign of Emperor Aurelian, a pound of silk could be sold for 12 ounces of gold in Rome.
  In 395, the Roman Empire was divided, and the Roman writer and administrator Pliny and some other historians believed that the outflow of gold weakened the economy, leading to the final collapse of the Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire’s love for silk was even greater than before, and even broke out the “Silk War” of the Eastern Roman Empire in order to break Persia’s monopoly on silk and hope to have a direct dialogue with China. During the reign of Justinian, the relationship between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia was tense, the price of silk in the territory soared, and the people complained. The Roman government was compelled to adopt the method of government price limit, stipulating that “the price of silk per pound is strictly prohibited to be higher than 8 gold sous (each gold sous contains 4.13 grams of gold), and all the property of the offenders will be confiscated and confiscated”.