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Silk and Its Importance to Ancient Chinese Culture

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Silk is the material comprised of slender and a continuous strand called fibers that was recognized by a human being and attained from plants which are produced by silkworms. The most popular silk is called mulberry silkworm. It releases the fluid form as single filament by a caterpillar known as silkworm which is used for silk production, Silk has only four stages in its whole life which include eggs, silkworm larvae, pupa and moth but man interferes in its life cycle to make more silk within a short period that is used for various purposes such as commercial goals.

The life cycle of silkworm

The life cycle of silkworms begins when the female moth lays eggs and after some days each egg turns into a silkworm larva that eats mulberry plants and grows larger the larva spins a cocoon of silk threads around itself inside the cocoon the larva transforms into a pupa, and the pupa transforms into a moth, the moth comes out of the cocoon then the adult moth mate with each other, and the life circle begins again.

The huge number of silk comes from a deliberate production process, known as sericulture that extends over all stages of production, in the sericulture the life cycle of silkworms depends on temperature, the higher the temperature the higher the life cycle of silkworms will be decreased and many silks will be produced in accordance with the care that is given to them.

Types of silk

There are mainly two types of silk which include mulberry and non-mulberry silk. Mulberry silk is mostly used in silk product because of its availability. Other types that don’t feed on mulberry leaves are known as non-mulberry silks.

Mulberry silk is is produced by the genus Bombyx mori silkworms which eats the mulberry plant and they are the principal source of silk, the silk threads produced by Bombyx Mori silkworms is white or yellowish. The fibers used for manufacturing purposes are exclusively produced by the silk-moth of China and it is the most requirements and contributes as much as 90 percent of world production.

Non- Mulberry silk include all other types of silks that are solely not fed on the mulberry plants, the most known economically Non-mulberry silk comprise Tasar silk produced by the worm called Tasar silk in which the silk threads are brown colored It is mostly found in India, China and Sri Lanka, Eric silk this type of silk mainly feeds on castor plants to produce a white or brick-red silk popularly known as Eri silk, Muga silk this type of silk produces golden-yellow silk thread which is very captivating and vigorous.

Silk in ancient Chinese culture

Silk is one of the developments in ancient China that brought a lot of contribution to the development of China. In old times, the Chinese used silk in many ways such as decorations, clothing and it was even used as currency and a reward. Silk became very important and due to that silk factories were built up for more silk production and due to that, it was exchanged to other nations for more advantages.

The Silk Road

The Silk Road was associate ancient mercantilism route that passed off throughout the Han Dynasty (207 BCE–220 CE) when the silk production had reached the high technical stage. The Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian section of the trade routes around 114 BCE through the research and operation of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian as directed by the Emperor. Silk road consist of both the land Silk Route divided into three main routes within the territory of China (North Route of Tianshan Mountain, North Route of Western China and South Route of Western China) and ocean Silk Route with three main navigations of the Maritime Silk Route (East Route from China to Korea and Japan, South Route from China to Southeast Asia, West Route from China to South Asia, Arabia and East African coastal countries).

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Silk Road was essential in Chinese culture because economically, it helped China in trading with the west, east and Europe, and due to that the Chinese were able to trade their commodities and made money hence economic development to the Chinese and because of that completely different technologies were introduced like gun powder, paper making and lots.

Culturally, it introduced additional cultures to the people living on the Silk Road and later it extended to people that are not living close to the Silk Road. Some cultures that were introduced through Silk Road include dancing, the ways of dressing and many artworks.

Socially, new ways to communicate to the people were brought whereby numerous languages were introduced in the process of making the trade effective and completely different belief were brought forward through the Silk Road which includes Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.

Silk clothing

China is the first nation that recognized silk production. The idea of silk arose from the queen named Leizu around the year 2696 BC the wife of Yellow Emperor who was having her tea underneath the mulberry tree, when a cocoon suddenly fell into her hot tea from the mulberry plant and unraveled producing silk threads around itself that when she discovered that the cocoon was made of long threads that were both soft and strong Leizu then discovered how to combine the silk fibers into a thread and hence the disclosure of silk.

The wealthy and the poor dressed quite differently, the individual of upper class like high ranking officials; member of the emperors’ court wore garments made of silk. The silk cloth was valued in Ancient China, wearing silk was essential and was recognized as a status symbol and due to that only the noble class was allowed to use silk cloth. Merchants and peasants were not allowed to wear silk, it was even used as cash throughout some Ancient Chinese dynasties.

Silk was used to make clothing which was valued in ancient Chinese culture, the wealthy and also the poor dressed quite differently, the people of higher status wore garments fabricated from silk and the social class were not allowed to wear silk later silk unfold through Chinese culture and so to several countries around the world were able to wear silk garments.

Silk as writing material

in very old China silk was considered as writing material, from the Period (475-221 B.C.) silk was much lighter and could be divided into different volumes and with different figures according to the need and be folded easily and many materials could be carried all at once, the better to be kept and carried than other previous writing implements such as wood slips and bamboo though it was exceptionally costly. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907 B.C), it was normal to make the lines into white plain silk to be used completely for writings that were chiefly for educational purposes and handing down knowledge to their descendants.

In ancient times Chinese were writing on woods which were very large and uncomfortable to be moved from one place to another and it was also less expensive compared to other writing materials that were used in ancient times because of its accessibility in all most all areas of China and it was sized according to the need it depended on how long the writings had to be, then, later on, they started writing on silks which were more useful than wooden plates and after using silk for some Chinese invented paper that was less costly than silk.

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Silk and Its Importance to Ancient Chinese Culture. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
“Silk and Its Importance to Ancient Chinese Culture.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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