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Home » Silk Road Facts » History of Chinese Silk

History of Chinese Silk

As well-known to everyone, China is first country to make silk from cultivated silkworms. So that the world's history of silk is mostly the history of Chinese silk to some extent.  

The most inflential evidence that makes history of silk date back to 5300 years ago is some silk products of Chinese Dawenkou culture age unearthed in 1958. Though the silk cocoon found in the Yangshao culture and primitive loom fragments seen from the Hemudu culture site were proved to be something of about 6000 years ago, we curtainly believe that silk has a 5000-year history at least.     

Silk fabric was first developed in ancient China and silks were originally reserved for the Emperors of China for their own use and gifts to others. The silk production began to take shape of an industry with very high technics and complicated weaving machines in the Shang Dynasty, and silk industry reach its first height in the Western Zhou Dynasty.


Silk Spread
China maintained its virtual monopoly over silk for another thousand years. Not confined to clothing, silk was also used for a number of other applications, including writing, and the colour of silk worn was an important indicator of social class during the Tang Dynasty. Thus China earned a fame as Kingdom of Clothing & Dresses.  
     
During the later epoch, silk spread gradually through Chinese culture and trade both geographically and socially to the Koreans, the Japanese, and later the Indians, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and then to many regions of Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants because of its texture and lusture when the Silk Road opened at some point during the later half of the first millennium BCE. Chinese lost their secret of silk but open a great silk industry for the world.      

Silk cultivation spread to Japan in around 300 CE, and by 522 the Byzantines managed to obtain silkworm eggs and were able to begin silkworm cultivation. The Arabs also began to manufacture silk during this same time. As a result of the spread of sericulture, Chinese silk exports became less important, although they still maintained dominance over the luxury silk market.

The Crusades brought silk production to ancient Mediterranean, in particular to many Italian states, which saw an economic boom exporting silk to the rest of Europe. Changes in manufacturing techniques also began to take place during the Middle Ages, with devices such as the spinning wheel first appearing. During the 16th century France joined Italy in developing a successful silk trade, though the efforts of most other nations to develop a silk industry of their own were unsuccessful.

In the Odyssey, Roman Empire. as they discovered how to make silk. Allusions to the fabric in the Old Testament show that it was known in western Asia in biblical times. Scholars believe that starting in the 2nd century BCE the Chinese established a commercial network aimed at exporting silk to the West.  Silk was used, for example, by the Persian court and its king, Darius III, when Alexander the Great conquered the empire. Even though silk spread rapidly across Eurasia, with the possible exception of Japan its production remained exclusively Chinese for three millennia.

The Industrial Revolution changed much of Europe’s silk industry. Due to innovations in spinning cotton, it became much cheaper to manufacture and therefore caused more expensive silk production to become less mainstream. New weaving technologies, however, increased the efficiency of production. Among these was the Jacquard loom, developed for silk embroidery. An epidemic of several silkworm diseases caused production to fall, especially in France, where the industry never recovered. In the 20th century Japan and China regained their earlier role in silk production, and China is now once again the world's largest producer of silk. The rise of new fabrics such as nylon reduced the prevalence of silk throughout the world, and silk is now once again a rare luxury good, much less important than in its heyday.


Silk Road
The first evidence of the silk trade is the finding of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy of the 21st dynasty, c.1070 BC. The silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia came to be known as the Silk Road.

 

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