The history of chinese silk

Assignment 2- Chinese design


Silk is a very important part of Chinese heritage; and was one of the most closely guarded secrets in history. The key to Chinas success is all down to the Blind, flightless, moth Bombyx Mori (Latin for, silk worm of the Mulberry tree) this moth cannot exist naturally in the wild it is totally dependant on humans for its survival. It is thought that this moth originates from Brombyx Mandarina; a silk moth living on a white mulberry tree, unique to china. However now it can be found in Northern India, Northern china, Korea, Japan and even as far as Russia. The Bombyx Mori is able to lay 500 or more eggs in the space of 4 to 6 days, but then dies soon after. This moths soul purpose in life is to reproduce. 100 of its eggs only weight 1 gram, each egg is as small as a pinpoint and out of 1 ounce of eggs come 30,000 worms. It is mind blowing how one little moth can produce so many babies. These 30,000 worms eat up to a tone of mulberry leaves, which allows them to produce up to 12 pounds of raw silk. To ensure the quality of the silk is as high as possible, the silk worms are prevented from hatching out and are given a good diet of leaves from the mulberry tree’s, Marus Rubra, Morus Nigra, or Osage Orange.

The silk worms are kept in bamboo trays, roughly one hundred worms in each. The trays are placed on specially made shelving in a room between 25 and 31 centigrade in a high humidity and will stay there for approximately 3 weeks until the eggs are hatched.

To increase the quality of the silk the Chinese went on to practice sericulture using all possible types of silk moths known to them. This helped develop the silk worm, so it could produce the best possible silk. Through sericulture, Bombyx Mori evolved into the specialized silk producer it is today; a moth with no flight; only capable of mating and producing the next generation.


When silk was first discovered it was a very prestigious substance, it was at the rulers disposal only; the Emperor, his close friends, and the very highest of his dignitaries, had the honor of sampling such a fine piece of cloth. No other material could compare to silks soft, smooth, fine fabric. Which oozed elegance and wealth.

When silk was first discovered, china was up and coming in technological development. This allowed them to experiment and develop different ways of using silk to make clothes and enabled them to discover there were many others uses for it, not just textile based.  Silk was quickly introduced into industrial use by china; it was commonly used for; musical instruments, fishing lines, bow string, and rag paper. Silk soon was seen as a very prestigious material, which for a while led to it turning into a form of currency.  During ‘Hans Dynasty’, silk became a form of payment, farmers paid their taxes in grain and silk, and was also used to pay civil servants, as well as rewarding people for outstanding services to their country. This lead to such a dramatic increase in silks importance in china, that 230 of the 5,000 “alphabet” have silk as the “key”.


Silk has a long-standing history and is known as the “National Gem of China” purely because it was kept a secret from the rest of the world for such a long time. It is said that the secret of silk was hidden for up to 2000 years. Which is why it is the most proud/guarded secret in history.



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