Sunday, January 26, 2014

Goddess of Silk: Leizu

Chinese women processing silk
Silk was the most coveted textile in the planet. From Rome to China, great empires sought for this prized cloth. Made from an unexpected insect, it gave China a monopoly on its production. People would cross the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India, the Indian Ocean, to go to China to purchase silk. For centuries, it connected the East and the West. But how did silk began? In China, Chinese tell the legend of the beginning of the Chinese silk industry. It involved a legendary Emperor and his Empress.

China, 2696 BCE, was just beginning to establish its civilization. Several legendary emperors and rulers already ruled and made mark in China. China’s Emperor, Huang Di or better known as the Yellow Emperor, continued to advance China. Under his rue China developed its architecture, its use of wood in order to build a house. He brought the wheel into his empire and developed transportation. Under his rule China also developed its own currency. Other fields of science and technology flourished in his benevolent reign. Astronomy, astrology, and many other came into being during his reign. Her Empress Leizu or Hsi Ling-Shih would also make her mark in China. According to the legend she would be responsible for the start of the lucrative Chinese silk industry.

The discovery of silk took place along the imperial palace of the Yellow Emperor. Along the imperial garden, many plants, flowers, and trees grew and gave color to the palace. The garden was a space of tranquility and prosperity, reflecting that of China. Among the trees that contribute to the beauty of the garden were mulberry trees. However, the trees started to lose its leaves quickly. The Empress Leizu took also noticed to the damages on the mulberry trees. She was alarmed and began to investigate. After observing and close inspection of the trees, he noticed that small cocoons made by small worms were present on the trees. Thinking that it was the culprit, she picked and collected the cocoons. After a while, she became exhausted after collecting a lot of cocoons. She decided to take a rest and a cup of hot tea in the garden. She sat down and placed her cocoons right beside her tea. After resting and sipping some of her tea, she accidentally hit her mound of cocoons and one cocoon fell to her tea. She look at her tea and tried to take out the cocoon. However, the cocoon became loosen and turned into treads. She experimented the tread and found out that it was soft and strong. She then built a loom that would transform the threads into a cloth. After a cloth was produced, she further discovered the beauty, the comfort, and the softness of silk.

Because of her discovery, she ordered the planting of a forest of mulberry trees to feed silk worms that would produce the silk. She began a sericulture and taught other women to make silk, to make the cloth, and later on, to make embroidery out of the silk cloth. Because of her finding of silk and starting the coveted silk industry, Empress Leizu was called the Goddess of Silk. Ever since, women were the only in charge of producing magnificent silk cloths. These women would lead the monopoly of China in silk.

True or not, silk forever change the world. Because of this fabric, exchange of culture between the east and the west was possible. Kingdoms and empires were build and destroyed. It became the driving force of an ancient period of globalization.

See also:
Divine Tea: Discovery of Tea by Shennong
Paper Money: Great Invention of China -- Part 1
The Powder that Changed the World
Unforgettable Invention  of China - Paper

Gleason, C.The Biography of Silk. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2007. 

"A Short History of Silk in China." Cultural China. Accessed on January 26, 2014.

"Ancient China: Silk Road." Duckster. Accessed on January 26, 2014.

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