Gateway to Maritime Silk Road


Explore GZ’s silk production via export paintings

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :May 18, 2020


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During the 18th and 19th centuries, foreign trade flourished in Guangzhou, with merchants from all over the world coming for business in the city. Various types of Chinese commodities were exported. Among them, tea, porcelain, and silk fascinated westerners most, not only with their fat profits, but also their intricate production procedures.

To satisfy foreigners' curiosity about the production of these commodities, many paintings of such topics were produced in large quantities in the city for foreigners to take home a picture of local everyday life. Curious about sericulture and silk-manufacturing in Guangzhou during the Qing Dynasty? Let’s take a look at the export paintings below.

Silkworm rearing. Women are covering reed trays with mulberry leaves for silkworms to nibble.

Sorting out the maturing larvae (fifth instar larva) and transferring them into cocoon frame.

Mounting: Mounting is the process of transferring the mature silkworms to cocoon frame. After reaching maturity, larvae search for hospitable places to begin their pupation. To ensure the quality and quantity of the cocoons, charcoal fire is often used to keep the larvae warm.

Filature. The cocoons must be soaked in hot water to loosen the sericin and then is brushed to locate the end of the fiber. The fiber is reeled onto a wheel to form one long and continuous thread.

Reeling and dyeing. It can be seen from this picture that workers on the left side are reeling and dyeing the raw silk with the help of a spinning device to improve the silk’s tenacity, while two workers on the right side are using a dye stick to forcibly twist the silk to wring out the remaining dye. The end product, the raw silk filaments, are reeled into skeins.

Silk winding. The silk filaments must be dampened before being wound onto bobbins to achieve a certain texture for weaving.

Beam-warping. Workers are putting the silk threads through beams to make the width more uniform so that each thread has the same tension so as to make superior silk.

Sizing. Threads will be much firmer after being sized. This picture shows that one worker is turning the spindle by hand while another one is brushing the thread.

Soaking. After sizing, workers soak the organzine to make finer silk.

Basking. Workers hang the dyed or soaked silk on a bamboo pole to dry.

Degumming, reeling and weaving. To achieve the distinctive softness and shine of silk, the remaining sericin must be removed from the yarn. The man on the left of the picture is hammering the silk on a timber block to degum it. The other two men on the right side are weaving threads with a jacquard loom to make silk fabric with complex patterns.

Editor: Yuan
Source: Guangzhou Archives