Invention of Silk in Ancient China
China is the home of Mulberry silkworm. Ancient China was the first place where the art of silk weaving was discovered. The history of silk can be traced back thousands of years. The humble silk fabric will not only continue to influence the history of China, but also the history of many other parts of the world. From the emperor of the Roman Empire to the pharaoh of ancient Egypt: silk has always been precious worldwide. Learn about the fairy tale stories behind the invention of silk, how silk influenced the establishment of the legendary Silk Road, and how the art of silk production spread across the world.
Where was silk invented?
Legend has it that silk was discovered in ancient China about 2700 BC. Confucius, one of China's most famous philosophers and politicians, recorded the story of the discovery of silk in written form. According to his story, the Chinese empress Leizu (also known as the Xi Ling Shi) accidentally discovered silk when a silkworm cocoon fell into her teacup. The hot water softens the silk fibers of the cocoon, so the cocoon begins to lose cohesiveness. When Leizu lifted the cocoon from the teacup, the end of the silk thread was loosened and the cocoon began to unravel. Leizu noticed that the cocoon was made of a single piece of filament, and her idea was to weave the filament into a piece of fabric.
（Picture of Leizu 嫘祖)
Empress Leizu shared her findings with her husband, the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), who encouraged her to observe the life of silkworms. Domesticated silkworm, also called Bombyx Mori in Latin, is a species native to China. You can find silkworms on mulberry trees because mulberry leaves are their primary food source. Lei Zu persuaded her husband to gift her a grove of mulberry trees to raise silkworms. She learned a lot by studying the surrounding silkworms and mulberry trees and eventually teaching her servants how to raise silkworms.
It is said that the silk invented by Empress Leizu in ancient China was the beginning of the sericulture industry. Sericulture is the process by which silkworm eggs produce silk fabrics. Empress Leizu and her attendants were the first to engage in silkworm farming, and this process has been limited to women for a long time. They are responsible for everything from raising silkworms to harvesting silk fibers from cocoons and weaving these fibers into silk fabrics.
(Picture above: The sericulture ceremony was presided over by the queen, leading the concubines to worship the silkworm god Leizzuzu, and to gather mulberry and feed silkworms to encourage the people to be diligent in weaving. It was the counterpart to the Xiannong ceremony presided over by the Chinese emperor. Through such rituals, not only does it mean to reward mulberry farmers, but it also clearly defines the division of work between male farming and female weaving. Since the Zhou Dynasty(510–314 BC), the sericulture ceremony has been followed in many dynasties.)
Regardless of whether the legend of the cocoon falling into the queen's teacup is real or not, Lei Zu's so-called discovery made her dubbed the silkworm and silkworm mulberry goddess in Chinese mythology. She has often been nicknamed the "mother of the silkworm." In Beijing, such as Beihai Park, you can still find altars dedicated to her gods all over China.