Of all the ancient silk fabrics,brocade represents the highest techniques. Reflecting the quintessence of Chinese silk weaving skills, Nanjing brocade (Nanjing Yunjin), is one of the three well-known brocades made in ancient China. At present, the Nanjing yunjin is mainly produced in Qinhuai, Jianye, Baixia, Xuanwu, and Qixia districts of Nanjing City. More than one thousand and five hundred years ago, there were historical records about Nanjing silk fabrics, but no tangible articles can be found today. In the late years of Eastern Jin Dynasty, Douchang Brocade Bureau, an organization fully in charge of brocade production, was set up in Nanjing. After the Northern Song court retreated south of the Yangtze River, Nanjing became the silk weaving center of China. The practice of using Nanjing yunjin to make gold ornaments dated back to the Yuan Dynasty, while the practice of using colorful zhuanghua brocade to make gold ornaments was extremely popular in Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.
The Nanjing yunjin is manually weaved through the cooperation of a thread puller and a weaver by using the traditional bulky wooden loom. This operation involves intense labor and high level of skills. Veteran craftsmen usually have a set of thread pulling procedure whirling→pressing→grabbing→joining→lifting→holding→pulling→ picking→spreading, of which the essence is the coordination of the whole body, i.e., when one's feet begin to act, one's mouth starts to read the operating gist, one's hands to pull the shuttle, one's mind to think of color combination, and one's eyes to keep close watch on the state of the operation. Yunjin can be mainly pided into four categories: gold weave, Ku brocade, Ku satin, and zhuanghua silk. The previous three categories can be produced with modern machines now, while the techniques of twining the pattern and weaving the materials into the brocade and of making flowers take on different colors one by one for the zhuanghua silk still requires manual work.
The Nanjing yunjin has rich cultural and scientific implications, and may serve to provide practical evidence for China's craftsmanship history, science and technology history, and cultural history. During the Kangxi period and the Jiaqing period of Qing Dynasty, the production scale of Nanjing yunjin was enormous. Wooden looms amounted to more than thirty thousand sets, and more than two hundred thousand people took yunjin weaving as their profession, thus annually producing more than a million bolts of brocades worth over 30 million liang (1 liang= 36.9g in that period) of silver. In the last years of Emperor Guangxu, the yunjin industry started to decline. Until the liberation of Nanjing in 1949, there were only four yunjin looms which were able to produce yunjin in the whole city. After 1949, yunjin weaving skills have been successfully passed on thanks to efforts made for their recovery, support and protection.
With the development of modern technologies, new varieties of silk fabrics continuously to emerge, and the update of apparel fabrics is speeding up. As market demands for yunjin are low, while the learning of yunjin weaving skills involves long period and intense labor, most of the young people are unwilling to be engaged in this profession, so the zhuanghua weaving skills are on the verge of extinction. At present, there are 24 persons who are confirmed by the yunjin research institute as successors. They all have years of experience in yunjin design and weaving. It is necessary to protect and utilize this resource appropriately in order to promote the inheritance and development of the Nanjing yunjin weaving skills.
- Chen Tao -
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