The Legend of Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih
Chinese legend gives the title Goddess of Silk to Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China in about 3000 BC. She is credited with the introduction of silkworm rearing and the invention of the loom. More recent archeological finds - a small ivory cup carved with a silkworm design and thought to be between 6000 and 7000 years old, and spinning tools, silk thread and fabric fragments from sites along the lower Yangzi River – reveal the origins of sericulture to be even earlier.
The Silk Road
Though first reserved for Chinese royalty, silk spread gradually through the Chinese culture both geographically and socially. From there, silken garments began to reach regions throughout Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants, because of its texture and luster.
Demand for this exotic fabric eventually created the lucrative trade route now known as the Silk Road, taking silk westward and bringing gold, silver and wools to the East. It was named the Silk Road after its most valuable commodity – silk was considered even more precious than gold!
Clearly, a basic understanding of silk history would not be complete without understanding the crucial role played by the Silk Road in its global trade and introduction to the world outside of China.
The Silk Road was some 4,000 miles long stretching from Eastern China to the Mediterranean Sea. A caravan tract, the Silk Road followed the Great Wall of China to the north-west, bypassing the Takla Makan desert, climbing the Pamir mountain range, crossing modern-day Afghanistan and going on to the Levant, with a major trading market in Damascus. From there, the merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea. Few people traveled the entire route; goods were handled mostly by a series of middlemen.