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Chinese Silk Through 5,000 Years

China has a history of silk more than 5000 years, since she first invented the sericulture and silk production. It is silk that built a bridge between China and Europe, then the Silk Road became a symbol of the cultural and economic exchange between the East and the West. So silk is a part of the Chinese civilization, which made a great contribution to the world.

What kind of oriental silk mysteries will be brought to this beautiful country? It is learned that there will be more than 140 pieces /sets of silk textile exhibits collected by ChinaSilkMuseum, of which 80, carefully selected, extremely precious and rare, are relics of ancient China which epitomizes the historical development of ancient silk culture. Besides, woven fabrics and modern brocade add up to 60 pieces / sets, among which, some master embroidered pieces are supplied by the Culture Ministry of the People's Republic of China.

The exhibition is made up of three parts.

Part I narrates how China and Europe are connected through the route of Silk Road, that is, the silk relics textiles excavated along the Silk Road by land, sea and desert. Chinese silk chronology charts the development of silk in the past 5,000 years with emphasis on Chinese silk history and culture. A group of model weaving looms, ranging from the primitive back-strapped loom, the treadle plain-weave loom, the reclining loom and the mechanical patterning loom act out not only the weaving technology but also how the ancient Chinese made exquisite silk. The precious exhibits, the 5,000-year old components of a primitive back-strapped loom and the silk yarn unearthed in Yuyao county, Zhejiang Province, enable people to understand that the ancestors of the Chinese people began to grow mulberry trees, raise silkworms and weave silk fabrics even then, hence, the long civilization history of China.

Part II exhibits the silk textile relics from the early Qin period (306 BC) to the 40s of last century. You can see a Han dynasty brocade (206 BC) with the motif of running animals amidst the misty mountains, an indication of people's longing for a fairyland. Still another piece called "Persian Samite" which dates back to the Northern dynasties (386-581AD) with its motifs of elephant, camel, winged horse, lion, and hunter in half a dozen colors, clearly indicates the influence of the western regions. Rare animals and gods from the Greek mythology form the major motifs of silk textiles from the 5th-9th centuries. A well preserved silk tabby coat tie-dyed by hand helps us to understand and study the silk production techniques as well as the fashion style in that dynasty. The brocade fabrics, elegant and poised with pearl roundel and floral spray motifs produced in the Tang dynasty not only reflect the prosperity of that dynasty but also the high level of technology in the silk production. The delicate and refined style of the Song dynasty is shown in a suit of gauze coat, trousers and a pair of shoes on display. They are thin, light and graceful. The trousers with its short yet loose legs recapture the fashion style of that time. The silk textiles and clothes after the 19th century on this show are all bright in color, diversified in style and exquisite in embroidery. Beautiful and gorgeous are these magnificent yellow fabrics for the emperor's robe with dragon motifs, the embroidered coats with red flowers, green embroidered woman's-wear and slim-figured Qipao of superb handwork.

Part III deals with the rapid advance of computerized digital technology and resultant digital weaving techniques. Brocade embroidery is the most resplendent chapter of the silk history. With the help of color separation and structure design, electronic jacquard and the new- type rapier, digital colorful silk paintings are more vivid in motif and richer in color expression. On the basis of the traditional printing and dyeing technology, printed silk paintings, and silk paintings from wax-resist dyeing and digital ink-jet improved on by contemporary high tech, are enjoying more appreciation among people. Hand painting and embroidery know-how are also nearing perfection with quite a number of innovative embroidery stitches. Dozens of scenic paintings and embroidery art needlework will surely bring you an eye treat.

The Chinese delegation also brings with them a team of fashion show. At the opening ceremony six beautiful girls from China will put on a performance of what the Chinese wear from the Han Dynasty(206BC-220AD)down to the present, a manifestation of the good time of silk in the past 5,000years. The show will last for 3 days. At the same time, the Chinese textile experts will have dialogue with the audience and receive interview by the media ( in English).

In the past 5,000 yeas silk has become an integral part of Chinese civilization and a great contribution to the world civilization as well. Living in silk is one of the pursuits by the people for a better life. It is believed that this exhibition will promote the cultural exchange between the two countries, strengthen their friendship and facilitate the Czech to understand the long history and culture of China.

"A silkworm spins all its silk till its death and a candle won't stop its tears until it is fully burnt." This Tang poem accurately describes the property of the silkworm. Despite technological development, a silkworm can only produce a certain amount of silk---1000 meters (3280feet) in its lifespan of 28 days. The rarity of the raw material is the deciding factor of both the value and the mystery of silk.

Legend has it that in ancient times, Lei Zu, the wife of Huang Di , taught people how to raise silkworms and how to extract the silk.

The Warring States Period, the beginning of feudalist society in Chinese history, witnessed a prosperous time. The development of productivity popularized silk and it was no longer a luxury just for aristocrats. The pattern, weaving, embroidery and dyeing skills were all improved as they were influenced by the free ideology of the time, while the silk designs had sense of a free and bold air about them.

The silk products excavated from Mawangdui Han Tomb are proof of the advanced skill and artistry of silk at this time.

Silk production peaked during the Han Dynasty when the manufactured goods were transported as far away as Rome from Chang'an (today's Xian). The overland trade route was to become famously known as the Silk Road. However, there was also a Marine Silk Road extending from Xuwen, Guangdong or Hepu, Guangxi to Vietnam. An outward bound voyage lasting five months would arrive in Vietnam; it would take another four months to reach Thailand; while a further twenty days would carry the merchants on to Burma. Two months later they would arrive in India and Sri Lanka, from where the silk would be eventually transported to Rome via the Mediterranean. After such a long journey, the price of silk was equivalent to that of gold. Legendary as it seems, tender silk connected China to the rest of the world.

During subsequent dynasties, professional designers created novel patterns and improved the machines.

The Marine Silk Road took supremacy over the land Silk Road following the Song Dynasty extending the trade to Southeast Asia which became fully developed in the Yuan Dynasty. Besides Chinese exports, foreign businessmen also came to China to buy silk and china wares.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties silk was transported to Europe and America from Manila and this meant that China dominated the world's silk market until 1908.

Chinese characters including the component "silk" have the intonation of silk or its implication of fine and deep. The richness of color, texture, strength and beauty of silk make it the means to imply something is fine and impeccable. A woman's raven hair is referred to as 'black silk' ; tender feelings are 'feelings of silk' and the Chinese word for a lingering and emotive feeling contains the component of "silk", and even a flavor can be silky and smooth.


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