A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about silk history

Dongwu Silk Hall Is Not A Factory

But it is highly recommended.


Beijing, December 28th 2012

In exchange of dropping me off at my hotel, I asked Jason to drop me off at the Silk Factory. Here's where he had brought me to.

"This is the factory?"

"Yes, it is," answered Jason.

Silk Factory??

And then started the story which I've previously described in an extra concrete way. Now's the story about the silk itself -- and 'the factory'.

What do these metal things have to do with silk? They look like weapons to me. And... why are the flower vases not placed symmetrically? Oh bother.

There's a big map on the wall displaying the routes of the Silk Road. I overhead a tourist guide explaining to his group:
Blue line, the route during Ming Dynasty, 600 years ago.
Green line, the route during the reign of Kublai Khan (founder of Yuan Dynasty), 1000 years ago.
Red line, the route during Han Dynasty, 2000 years ago.

Let's draw the timeline of Chinese history first.
1 Prehistory
1.1 Paleolithic
1.2 Neolithic

2 Ancient China
2.1 Xia Dynasty (c. 2100 – c. 1600 BC)
2.2 Shang Dynasty (c. 1700–1046 BC)
2.3 Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC)
2.4 Spring and Autumn Period (722–476 BC)
2.5 Warring States Period (476–221 BC)

3 Imperial China
3.1 Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC)
3.2 Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220)
3.2.1 Western Han
3.2.2 Xin Dynasty
3.2.3 Eastern Han
3.3 Wei and Jin Period (AD 265–420)
3.4 Wu Hu Period (AD 304–439)
3.5 Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420–589)
3.6 Sui Dynasty (AD 589–618)
3.7 Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907)
3.8 Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907–960)
3.9 Song, Liao, Jin, and Western Xia Dynasties (AD 960–1234)
3.10 Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271–1368)
3.11 Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644)
3.12 Qing Dynasty (AD 1644–1911)

4 Modern China
4.1 Republic of China (1912–1949)
4.2 People's Republic of China (1949–present)

5 Phew
What a loooooong history!

Here's the other part of the map.

The Silk Road has stretched as far as Indonesia, my country. I wasn't surprised by the mark on Palembang, because I've learned about that in school. Not about the Silk Road, but about the establishment of Sriwijaya Kingdom whose political center and capital was in modern Palembang.

Here's from Wikipedia:
"Between late 7th to early 11th century Srivijaya rose to become hegemon in Southeast Asia, involved in close interactions — often rivalries — with neighboring Java, Kambuja and Champa. Srivijaya's main foreign interest was nurturing lucrative trading rights with China spanned from Tang to Song era. "

According to Asian Studies:
Srivijaya also created the primary trade route between China and India and the kingdom traded widely with them. In the eyes of the Chinese, Srivijaya was an excellent trade partner because the Chinese was able to keep their goods moving into South China ports and voyaging through the Southeast Asian archipelago.

However, I was astonished by the mark on Tuban. Uncle Google, please tell me!

Uncle Google didn't say as much as he did about Sriwijaya. However, through a book preview of "Song Blue and White Porcelain on the Silk Road" by Adam T. Kessler here, for the first time I learned that Tuban had been an important port in the past. I must have been absent when my history teacher came to this part. It could be physically absent or absent minded. Aha.

To make a long history short, a ship sank. In 1980, porcelain from the Song Dynasty era was found. The city Kediri was repeatedly mentioned. Kediri? So for how many generations have the Chinese dwelt in Kediri? Mom told me that she had seen hutongs in Kediri. Oh, how exciting traveling is! If the Chinese residents Mom saw in Kediri were recent immigrants, I don't think they would have built hutongs.

Intermezzo. 'Sudan Strait' written on the map above is by no means, incorrect. It should be 'Sunda Strait'. The difference putting an 'n' in the middle and in the end is like the difference between Java and Africa. I'm serious! 'Sunda' is on Java Island and 'Sudan' is on Africa Continent.

Aha! So this is a 'museum', not a 'factory'. It has been said after all.

Information was plenty. I would highly recommend Dongwu Silk Hall as a good place to gain knowledge about the history of silk in China, the biology of silkworm, and a little about the Silk Road. Information boards were written in Chinese and English. Nevertheless, the English sentences were kind of awkward -- which is not surprising. Instead of copying them as I used to, this time let me summarize them all while using the sentences as much as it was written. Here we go!

Legend has it that when Empress Leizu (27th century BC) was having tea in her garden, a cocoon fell in her tea. The heat of the tea unwrapped the silk until it stretched across her entire garden. When the silk ran out, she saw a small cocoon and realized that this cocoon was the source of the silk. Leizu shared her discoveries with others, and the knowledge became widespread in China. It is not known how much, if any, of this story is true, but historians do know that China was the first civilization to use silk. Well, not just silk as a matter of fact. There are several, such as money. Yay, money!

However, the earliest written evidence of silk is found in oracle bone inscriptions. Archeological findings in Henan and Zhejiang suggest that silk reeling and weaving with backstrap looms were practiced in the Neolithic Age.

Innovations in mechanical looms made possible the production of silk with complicated structures. Further advances in printing, dyeing and embroidery techniques resulted in silk textiles with great visual appeal. Over the past several thousand years silk garments were worn by emperors and the aristocracy as well as by the common people. The traditional clothing and accessories of the northern nomads and the Han nationality created a historic nation of clothing and accessories, which became a symbol of the culture of the Chinese nation.

Displays and adequate information about the garment characteristic in each dynasty was provided as well.

The Suzhou today was once the capital of Wu State in the Spring and Autumn Period. Situated on the shore of Lake Tai, mulberries spread all over the district's fertile soil. Hence, silk, such as brocade, embroidered silk, ghatpot, leno silk, etc. has become a specialty of Suzhou as early as the Neolithic Age, up to present.

During the Wu era, one of The Three Kingdoms, a sea route for silk opened. Chinese silk began to be exported to Rome and Japan. During Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty, Suzhou became the domestic center of silk weaving.

The use of this traditional mechanic equipment, I saw still being used in Hetian, Xinjiang.

Here's the modern equipment. Exactly like the ones I saw in Vietnam. Sadly, this giant equipment stood idle. Is this the Beijing Silk Factory? Well, on no part of this building is written the word 'factory'. For a countless time, I was grateful I had witnessed the making of silk textile for real and and in detail. I am even more grateful to have met Tin, the tour guide from Groovy Gecko Tours who explained to me in such an explicit way about the whole process. All the way from Xi'an to Kashgar on my Silk Road adventure, no one from this motherland of silk had explained to me about silk like Tin did. Neither here, in Beijing.

In any tourist destination, I have a habit -- good or bad, you tell -- of stealing information from a tourist group who happens to be around. And, I never heard a tour guide explain about that idle machine, let alone the making of silk textile. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to bump into a big tour group (seemingly from Malaysia) whose guide explained about this:
From top left clockwise: Pick up a silk cocoon, dip it into water, and then twist it with your fingers. Silk thread is elastic and strong. Such a small cocoon can be stretched and slid into this curved steel bar, without tearing a thread. Then the silk is pulled off from the small curved bar and slid once again into a bigger curved bar. Not a thread of silk is cut. The man in grey suit is the tour guide. He is showing that the white fabric in his hand is a result of the small cocoon.

Intermezzo again. Poor Dàjiě. Doesn't she look tired and bored?

The story of Chinese silk is not just the history of technological development. Chinese silk functioned as an offering to gods and spirits, as a symbol of class status, and as a form of decoration for ordinary people. Silk is also a symbol of Chinese culture.

People in ancient China associated the life style of the silkworm with the human life and expressed the hope that they ascend to heaven and become immortal, as they imagined the silkworm did when it became a moth in the cocoon.

Here's the display that explains about a silkworm's life cycle, ...
... and some close ups of the stages.

It won't be Beijing, if you aren't in the end persuaded -- in every way -- to purchase something.

About the manufacturing process doesn't matter. It's about the end product. Typically Chinese. Anyway, you get money from the product, not from the process, right?

It's also important to convince your customer why he must buy what you have to offer. This is why. It's only silk that is not acarid.

Easy logic. Both silkworm and acari are of the Insecta Class. Why should they meddle with each other?

Here's the overhead bridge next to Dongwu Silk Hall. There stands a silence storybook about glory in the past. It's a sad thing that people in Beijing who deal with the tourism industry are more interested in receiving money than in sharing the culture. I can't feel their passion. Not at all. Maybe because the idea of using durable light-weight substance as evidence of a promise to pay a bearer on demand originated in China during the Han Dynasty in 118 BC (See: Banknote), people are so after money. It's simply heredity. Aha.

Of course culture cannot feed one's stomach. However, considering China to have the longest history with the deepest culture, isn't it a great pity to turn that immaculate culture into merely a stepping stone? Don't you think, your ancestors, my ancestors, would turn in their graves?

Posted by automidori 07:16 Archived in China Tagged china beijing silk_factory silk_museum silk_history dongwu_silk_hall Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]