History of Chinese silk – emroidered tiger, dragon and phoenix design
The origins of silk weaving and production are shrouded in mystery and legend. The practice undoubtably originated in China sometime before the middle of the 3rd millenium bc. It is said that Lei Zu, wife of Yellow Emporer Huang Di, discovered and proceeded to teach the practice of raising and extracting silk from silkworm cocoons. This pracice, called “sericulture”, became an important part of the Chinese rural economy, and eventually led to trading along the famed “silk road”, which went from China, into Thailand, India, and eventually led to the west all the way to Rome.
The weaving of damask has been discovered as early as the Shang dynasty, and in the tombs of the 4th–3rd centuries bc at Mashan near Jiangling (Hubei province). The tombs, excavated in 1982, have provided outstanding examples of guaze, brocade and embroidery with beautifuly detailed pictorial designs as well as the first complete silk garments. Shown here is an example of an embroidered silk panel with a tiger, dragon and phoneix pattern, from the Zhou dynasty, Mashan Tomb No. 1, 4th–3rd century bce. It is currently housed in the Jingzhou Museum, Hubei province, China.