Chengdu The Starting Point of the Southern Silk Road
Sichuan Brocade is titled the Top 3 Brocades in China with Yun Brocade of Nanjing and Song Brocade of Suzhou. It is reputed as “An Oriental Treasure, A Chinese Wonder” for its long history of over 2,000 years and unique workmanship. “Shu” is noted as a kind of worm feeding on mulberry in World and Expression by Xu Shen in the Eastern Han Dynasty. “Silkworm prospers in Shu and “Shu” is used to symbolize silkworm” in the Records of Huayang. In remote times, the valleys at the upper streams of Minjiang River enjoyed a mild climate and sufficient rains. The unique natural conditions were especially suitable for rising of silkworm. The silk produced in Shu was even in fineness with soft gloss. A Shu brocade made of it was extraordinary colorful. The weaving skill of Shu brocade was also listed in the first batch of National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Last year, 4 Jacquard models of Shu brocade were unearthed at the Laoguanshan Han Tombs of Tianhui Town. It is the first discovery in the archaeological history of China. Archaeologists believed that its discovery had made up a gap in the textile history of China and even the world, and evidenced that Chengdu was the starting point of the Southern Silk Road in the history.
The Known Earliest Textile Center in Chengdu
At the B1F of Chengdu Shu Brocade and Embroidery Museum, ancient Shu brocades were restored and exhibited, including the rubrical geometric brocade with a pair of dragons or phoenixes of the State Warring Period, the Huwang Brocade of Sui Dynasty, the Hunting Brocade of Four Heavenly Kings of Tang Dynasty, Taizi Jumbuck Brocade of Ming Dynasty and Yuehua Brocade of Qing Dynasty. They were hanged in the cabinet, telling the history of Shu brocade silently.
Emerged in the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Period in modern Sichuan, made of colorful silks. An office was set up in Chengdu to take charge of brocade, thus, Chengdu was called the “Jinguan City”. The river around Chengdu was also named the “Jinjiang” since people often washed the brocade by its side. To the Shuhan Period in the Three Kingdoms, Shu Kingdom exchanged its brocade for horses with Wei Kingdom and grains with Wu Kingdom. Shu brocade turned to the economic pillar of Shu Kingdom, based on which, the local people’s conditions were improved significantly. Tang Dynasty ushered in another heyday of Shu brocade development with much more sophisticated weaving skills. For instance, in the past, the pattern was made by colorful warps intersecting with general warps and in Tang Dynasty, it changed to intersection of wefts. The preliminary multi-heald loom also developed to harness type jacquard loom. The Daxingtai (an official title in feudal China) of Yi Prefecture designed more than 100 patterns such as connected beads and curved grasses, which had been popular for over a century. In the Song and Yuan Periods, the weft floating occurred and the production of hollowing loom in Ming and Qing Periods brought in more complicated and fine patterns. “Gradually changing color occurred and became a unique skill in Shu brocade weaving.”
The famous expert of Bashu culture, Yuan Tingdong said to the reporter, Chengdu was the known earliest textile center and Shu Brocade was of the highest ranking. The names of Jinjiang and Jincheng were also after it. The first textile in China was found in Xinjiang where was rather dry. Those textiles saved were all produced in Chengdu.”
Laoguanshan Shu Brocade Loom Renewing the World Textile History
In 2013, the Chengdu Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology and the Jingzhou Cultural Relics Protection Center formed a joint archaeological team for rescue and archaeological excavations of the Laoguanshan Han Tombs consisting of a total of 4 wooden coffins buried in pits in the Western Han Dynasty. 4 Shu brocade jacquard loom models were unearthed at the north bottom case of the Tomb No. 2. According to experts, they were unprecedented and the only intact ones of Western Han Dynasty found in China. It was of great significance to the study of China and the world silk textile technology origin and development.
“In the past, Shu brocade was often found along the Silk Road, and this time, the tools unearthed in Chengdu, used to produce Shu Brocade, confirming the important role of Chengdu as the starting point of the Silk Road." Archaeological experts believed that the Silk Road went across the Eurasian continent with silk, a special tradable, as its most important carrier, while the Shu brocade was an important support. The Shu brocade produced in Chengdu was exported along the Silk Road in great number and made an indelible contribution to the promotion of Eastern and Western material and cultural exchanges, and the progress of human civilization. The famous silk archaeologist Wu Min even held the idea that that "there is no brocade, there is no history of China's brocade weaving." The expert also said that the unearthed was not a general loom model, but the representative of the most advanced textile technology, which effectively supported the development of traditional handicraft industry in Chengdu, and rewrote the history of China's textile industry and also of the world.
Archaeological experts believed that Chengdu was called the textile capital in the Han and Tang Dynasties. As a southern city closest to the political center of Chang'an, Chengdu was the most important "industrial production base" in the south. Since the Southern Song Dynasty, Shu's weavers had been relocated to Lin'an (Hangzhou), but Chengdu was still an important political and economic center in the southwest.