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Silk China
Chinese Silk
China Information - China Folk Culture and Art


Silk is one of the best materials for clothing that has hardly any match in the world. Reputed to be "the queen" of fabrics, it is light, lustrous and
durable. Also it has the advantage of being soft to the touch, resistant to heat and breathing very well. All these features make it an ideal fiber for
beautiful satins, charming brocade and attractive dresser. If one goes to a traditional opera in China, he will find people from well-to-do families in
silk dresses, which are believed to be commensurate with their social status.

China is the first producer of silk in the world. Silk production was started in the country about 4,500 years ago.
Silkworm breeding is done by farmers in the rural areas. It takes an average of 26-27 days for a silk worm. The farmers used to breed the worms
twice a year, in spring and autumn. Now, however, the farmers do the silkworm breeding 3, 4 or 5 times a year, provide the mulberry leaves, the
only food for the worms, are available. Silk worms are hungry creatures, too. They eat a lot. In fact, they have to be fed every four hours, including at
night. Silkworms are heavy sleepers by nature. They keep eating the leaves for a couple of days and then got to a long sleep. In a lifetime of 20 to
30 days, a silkworm goes to four long sleeps, each of which lasts about 24 hours. When they wake up from a sleep, they plunge into eating the
leaves with a better appetite than before. The last sleep is the longest sleep-about 36 hours or even more. When they wake up, they are ready to
spin cocoons. When the cocoons are made, the farmers will pick them up and put them into bamboo baskets and transport them to the
purchasing centers set up by the silk companies right in the rural areas. There, heating has to be done in good time to all the cocoons in order to
kill, or rather, stifle the chrysalises inside. If they fail to do this, the worms will transform themselves from chrysalises into moths and emerge out
of the cocoons, rendering them useless for reeling purposes with a hole in each of them.

From one cocoon one can get a silk thread which is between 800 and 1,400 meters long. A silk thread in actual use, however, comes not from one
cocoon, but from 6 to 10 cocoons.

A talk about silk or silk production in China is never complete without a reference to the world-famous Silk Road. In 139 B. C. Zhang Qian was
dispatched by the Han Emperor to China's western neighbours to promote trade and friendly relations. From then on, for about 1 000 years, the
Silk Road was the artery for the two-way flow of goods between China and what we now call the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Silk production in
China was so well developed and silk products from China were so popular abroad that China was exporting huge amounts of silk and silk
products in exchange for what the Chinese needed but did not produce themselves, such as ivory, precious stones and spices of various sorts in
addition to the introduction of such alien fruits and vegetables as tomatoes and water-melons. The Silk Road extended westward, from the Wei
River valley in central China, past the Hexi Corridor and the present Xinjiang, across the mountain passes, which served as the boundary between
China and its western neighbours, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Silk and silk goods from China would leave Xi'an, the then capital of
China, for such destinations as Damascus, Istanbul, Cairo and Rome.

Thousands of years have passed since China first discovered silkworms. Nowadays, silk, in some sense, is still some kind of luxury. Some
countries are trying some new ways to get silk without silkworms. Hopefully, they can be successful. But whatever the result, nobody should forget
that silk was, and still always be our national treasure. Remember: what silk does for the body is what diamonds do for the hand.


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