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September 25, 2015

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Exhibition traces history of the Silk Road

SINCE President Xi Jinping proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives, also known as “One Belt, One Road,” in September 2013, China and countries along the ancient routes have launched a series of cooperative projects.

“One Belt, One Road” aims to revive China’s economic ties in Eurasia. In return, many cities have held exhibitions that showcase the history of the Silk Road. Hangzhou is no exception.

A large-scale exhibition that displays relics excavated along the Silk Road is underway at West Lake Museum through October 15. The items are from museums in Shaanxi, Henan, Hunan, Hebei, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The exhibition is divided into three parts — Origin, Transmission and Exchange. Most of the highlights lie in the former two parts.

Origin begins with silk and textile tools dug up in Qingtai Village of Henan Province. The fragments, which are from a burial shroud, date back more than 5,000 years. The silk is the oldest known to have been discovered in the world.

Meanwhile, the primitive textile tools — spinning wheels, spinning needles and spinning cones ‚ show Chinese had already begun weaving at the time.

Although such tools have been unearthed around the country, none offered an intact set. Later, the excavation of Hangzhou Liangzhu Culture Relic provided archeologists with a complete set, which helped them figure out how the weaving tools worked.

Weaving may date back 4,900 years in Liangzhu and now these tools are on display at the museum.

Nonetheless, the creation of spinning and weaving implements was not enough to produce silk since the cultivation of silkworms was essential.

The country’s silkworm breeding is believed to be 6,000 years old after a silkworm cocoon was excavated in Xiyin Village of Shanxi Province. However, the large-scale cultivation of silkworms started in the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-770 BC), when jade items were often engraved with silkworm patterns.

In addition, silkworms were considered a divine media that connected deities and human beings during the Western Zhou Dynasty. Burial objects excavated from tombs from that time were always carved with related patterns.

Developments in raising silkworms and spinning tools between the Western Zhou and Han (202 BC-AD 220) dynasties allowed the ancient silk industry to flourish.

Exhibits discovered from the Masha Chu Tomb of Hubei Province showcase exquisite silk products that were made during the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). The costumes, quilts, hats and silk paintings are considered unparalleled treasures in China’s silk history.

In addition, a piece of silk dating to the same period and excavated in Anji County of Zhejiang Province showcases the evolution of silk technology at the time. It was weaved with a jacquard loom, which was a big step in creating sophisticated silk products.

The silk industry began to boom during the Han Dynasty when the royal court established workshops across the country.

Silk fabrics excavated from Changsha Mawangdui Han Dynasty Tomb of Hunan Province symbolize the quality of silk produced in the Han Dynasty. Exquisite silk products dug from that tomb feature various weaving methods.

The second part of the exhibition displays the transmission of Chinese ancient silk. In this part, collections are displayed according to different ancient geographical areas.

In Han Dynasty, Emperor Hanwu dispatched envoy Zhang Qian to the western region (modern-day Middle Asia) for military purposes. On his way westward, Zhang gradually won prestige among those countries, which in return laid the foundation for the Silk Road. The then capital Chang’an (today’s Xi’an of Shaanxi Province) was always considered the starting point of the ancient Silk Road.

The Silk Road continuously extended westward thereafter, deepening cultural and commerce exchanges in Eurasia.

The Silk Road within China was mainly in Gansu Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where a large number of silk relics have been excavated.

Dunhuang of Gansu Province was an ancient transportation hub along the Silk Road. Silk items excavated from its renowned Mo Kao Grotto had daily and religious uses.

At the exhibition, a patchwork from Mo Kao Grotto is characterized by diverse floral patterns in red, yellow and green. The patchwork is believed to have been made in the late Southern and Northern Dynasty (420-589 AD).

The biggest ancient silk discovery found in Xinjiang was in Loulan, a prosperous hub along the Silk Road that later vanished. The exhibition displays delicate silk products from the mysterious city.

The last part of the exhibition highlights cultural exchanges among the different ethnic groups who lived along the Silk Road. This can be seen in clothing. Han clothing styles started appearing in other groups. Likewise, Han clothing was influenced by the various ethnic groups they encountered along the route.


Date: Through October 15 (closed on Mondays)

Venue: West Lake Museum

Address: 89 Nanshan Rd.

Tel: (0571) 8788-2333


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