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Revival of Shu brocade spurred by the Silk Railroad

2018/10/11 9:50:31   source:CGTN

In ancient times, much of the area that is today's Sichuan Province in southwest China belonged to the State of Shu. The name Shu is still sometimes used to refer to the Sichuan area. It also lives on in a type of richly-embroidered silk fabric that has been produced locally for well over 2,000 years – Shu brocade.

He Bin, a master weaver of Shu brocade, explained the process by which it is produced.

"Shu brocade from Sichuan is made from naturally-dyed silk threads. It uses three main colors: red, brown and black. Other than the colors, what distinguishes Shu brocade is the craft. It takes more than 120 steps to make Shu brocade. It's very complicated. In the past, it was said to be worth as much as gold," He told CGTN.

At the time of the Warring States Period, from the fifth to the third century BC, Shu brocade was a major export commodity. Carried along what would become known as the Southern Silk Road, products made from the luxurious fabric – ranging from garments and handkerchiefs to cushion covers and screens – made their way via Southeast Asia, as far as India and Europe.

However, by the turn of the 20th century, the skills of producing the unique brocade were almost lost. Then, in 2006, the art of Shu brocade-making was listed as part of China's intangible cultural heritage, and now it's undergoing a revival.

Zhang Jingxian is at the forefront of this resurgence. She uses traditional embroidery techniques to reproduce Shu brocade designs on modern shoes made of silk and Italian leather.

Her products, like Shu brocade in the past, are finding a ready market in Europe. However, her customers are less patient than their ancient counterparts, and they demand rapid delivery. So, Zhang is grateful for the recent opening of an overland route to Europe from southwest China, known as the Silk Railroad.

"If you compare rail to sea freight, rail is three times faster, so it's more efficient. It helps us get the goods to our customers as quickly as possible. Because shoes are fashion products, we need them to hit the market on time," Zhang explained.

Historian and "Rediscovering China" host Sam Willis is impressed by what he sees.

"It's almost history repeating itself, isn't it?" Willis said. "The same motivation that drives these people here, drove those traders all those years ago to go across the mountain passes. It's to provide people with something unique, whether it's a luxury German car or an embroidered shoe."

His colleague, CGTN's Li Qiuyuan agrees.

"And it's good to see that high-end products such as shoes made and designed in China are now being sold to Europe," Li said. "It's just one of the things that's re-shaping what ‘Made in China' really means."

"Rediscovering China" is a 30-minute feature program offering in-depth reports on the major issues facing China today. It airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. BJT (02:30 GMT), with a rebroadcast at 11:30 p.m. (15:30 GMT), as well as Monday 8:30 a.m. (00:30 GMT) and Friday 1:30 p.m. (05:30 GMT).

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