The World of Chinese Silk

China has produced more things in the world than could possibly be documented, but one that usually comes to mind is silk. It’s a glorious fabric that is smooth to the touch and shines like nothing else. Though the production of silk is found in many parts of the world, the link between China and silk is still firmly set in our minds.

Silk was discovered in ancient China, and there have been samples found in tombs that are several thousands of years old. They monopolized the production of silk for centuries, creating a huge trade boon for China until other Asian nations uncovered the secret to weaving it for themselves.

The Nature of Silk

You can’t really understand Chinese silk until you understand silk itself. The smooth fabric has a luscious shine, making it very unique and valuable among all other types of fabrics. Not only is the material extremely beautiful in look and feel, the work involved in making it can be very time-consuming. Silk moth caterpillars are reared until they weave their cocoons, which are then carefully unwoven to gather the natural silk fibers that are woven into thread.

As a material, silk is very unique. Besides its appearance, it has many other positive features. It’s non-conductive of electricity, which can make static cling a bit of a problem but it also makes it a great insulator to hold warm air close to the body. Silk is also very durable, which is why samples are so easily found in ancient tombs to this day.

Silk in Traditional Chinese Clothing

Traditional Chinese clothing has changed over the centuries, and also varied from one social or wealth class to the next. Though different styles and types of clothing have been in fashion over time, many items have always made use of silk. Robes and jackets made from silk have long been traditional pieces, and the long fitted Chinese dress called a cheongsam is recognized around the world.

Bright colors and heavy brocades have always been part of most silk clothing in China, turning simple clothing into works of art.

The Historical Silk Route

You can’t really have a discussion about Chinese silk without talking about the famous silk route that marked the successful trade of silk between China and the rest of the Asia, Africa and Europe.

Though stories make it sound like the silk route was just one busy road, there were actually several different very different routes. The northern routes would have gone to northern India, Persia and even on to Egypt and Europe. Farther south, the silk route took to the water, and the south coast of India and then to the horn of Africa.

The route may have started out as just a path for trade, but it led to a great deal of cultural exchange across thousands of miles. In fact, it could likely be said that civilization across several continents was greatly advanced simply because of the trade of Chinese silk.

So Chinese silk has not only been a gorgeous fabric, but also had a great impact on the world overall due to its place in the trade and commerce of China over thousands of years.


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