Chinese Silk

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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.

history 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.

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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.

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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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tips on buying silk

when come to china, many visitors would like to buy some souvenirs. the smooth silk product is certainly the best choice. before buying them, it is always wise to learn the common sense of the silk product including the function, identification and maintenance.

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function of silk

being a natural fiber, the silk has irreplaceable uniqueness and great vitality. the silk garment has certain health care function to human body:

first, it brings the pleasant sensation. composed of azelon, the real silk has a good biocompatibility. the smooth surface makes the smallest friction coefficient of all types of ribers.

second, it has a good permeability and hygroscopicity. it contains 18 sorts of amino acid. it is regarded as the "queen of fiber" due to its good permeability and light absorbing ability.

third, it has excellent qualities of acoustic absorption, dust absorption and strongly heat-resistant.

fourth, it has the function of anti-ultraviolet radiation. the fibroin in it can well absorb the ultraviolet radiation. but after absorbing the ultraviolet radiation, the chemical changes will make it yellowing from day lighting.

identification of real silk

the most common methods to identify real silk are handling, eye observation, inflammation and chemical coloring.

the methods of handling and eye observation

observe the length and uniformity of fiber: silk is slim and long; cotton fiber is short; fleece is longer and more curled than cotton fiber; the long chemical fiver is long, and the short chemical fiber is short and trim.

observe the handling and strength of fiver: the handling of silk is moderate; terylene, nylon yarn and viscose feel very similar to silk; the flax and cotton are hard and the fleece is soft.

observe from the appearance: silk fiber has special sheen, bright but not harsh glare; chemical fiber does not have this property.

by inflammation

burn the fiber and observe the changes to determine its kind.


touch the flame

away from the flame

smell when burns

feature of the leftovers


curl, melt, flame up

burn slowly, extinguish sometimes

hair burning

crisp, loose and black granule


flame up instantly

inflame instantly

paper burning

soft, fine, grayish black downy leftovers


flame up instantly

inflame instantly

paper burning

soft, fine, hoar downy leftovers


curl, melt, flame up

burn slowly, extinguish sometimes

hair burning

crisp, loose and black hard coke


burn slowly with noise


hair burning

crisp, loose and black beadlike

maintenance of real silk

the best way to wash real silk is dry cleaning, or washes it with neutral soap or detergent specially used for silk product. do not wash it under high temperature. it is bad to wash silk with light color or white clothes. it is bad to scrub it hardly or wash it in the washing machine.

the dyed silk product should be put in dry and cool places to avoid the direct sunlight. it is not suitable to wring it after wash. when ironing, the temperature of the electric iron should not be too high and interfacing is suggested to put on it to keep the silk from being damaged.

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