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Chinese Silk

Silk is a natural fibre and its absorbency makes it very comfortable to wear in warm or cold weather. The Chinese were the first to obtain the technique of silk making. The protein fibre of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm also called sericulture. The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angels, thus producing different colours.

According to Chinese Legend, Lei Zu, wife of Emperor Huangdi, invented sericulture, silk reeling and weaving. Chinese archaeologists believe the technology of silk weaving has at least a history of 4000 years. Originally silk was reserved for the Chinese emperors for their own use and also worked as gifts to guests. Later silk fabrics had been the main materials to make clothes for the noblemen and their families as well as an important commodity for export since long ago.

In July 2007, archaeologists unearthed intricately woven and dyed silk clothes in a tomb in South China's Jiangxi province, dated to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty which is nearly 2,500 years ago. Although historians have suspected a long history of a formative textile industry in ancient China, this find of silk textiles employing "complicated techniques" of weaving and dyeing provides direct and concrete evidence for silks dating before the Mawangdui discovery in Hunan Province and other silks dating to Han Dynasty which was from 202 BC to 220 AD.

There have always been different types of ancient Chinese silk. As early as the Han Dynasty of 2000 years ago, Zhang Qian, a famous diplomat of the time, opened up the 'Silk Road' leading to West Asia and Europe. It was along this road that silk was continuously transported to those countries. In ancient times, Chinese silk was the most lucrative and sought-after luxury item traded across the Eurasian continent. It is said that during the first century AD, a Roman emperor went to a theatre wearing silk, which caused a great stir in the audience. Since then people have wanted to wear clothes made of Chinese silk. China, therefore, was called the 'Nation of Silk'.

Traditionally the Yangtze River delta area is among the most developed region in terms of sericulture. Jiangsu Province has long been the main place for exporting silk and silk garments. Suzhou, the second largest city in Jiangsu, is traditionally regarded as the Capital of Silk Industry in China where tourists may have the chances to visit the local silk factory to learn about the history of Chinese sericulture and latest design of silk products for export.