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The origin of Sichuan brocade

By Li Shiwei | 2016-06-23
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A Sichuan brocade weaving machine 


Sichuan brocade or shujin refers to a specific type of silk fabric produced in Sichuan Province. It is created by weaving colorful, boiled silk threads into various geometric patterns and motifs.

In ancient times, Sichuan was called Shu, or the State of Shu. It was known as a land of abundance and is rich in silkworms. The silk industry in Sichuan is one of the origin points of Chinese silk culture. Sichuan brocade originated from the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, and flourished in the Han and Tang dynasties. It has a history of more than 2,000 years and exerted a far-reaching influence on traditional Chinese silk production. Sichuan brocade features pastel shades incorporated in an elegant, and carefree style, which shows Han Chinese characteristics and local traditions.

Sichuan brocade is one of China’s four most famous branches of brocade, the others being Yun brocade in Nanjing, Song brocade in Suzhou and Zhuang brocade in Guangxi. With its unique graceful bearing and bright, clear colors that mimic the style of Chinese-ink paintings, Sichuan brocade was put on the national intangible cultural heritage list in 2006. Sichuan brocade is the predecessor of Nishijin textiles, a national treasure-class and traditional folk art in Japan.  

This form of brocade is mainly produced in Chengdu and has a long history. In the Han Dynasty, the weaving industry of Sichuan brocade in Chengdu was well developed. The imperial government of the Han Dynasty set up an office in Chengdu to manage it, so Chengdu is known as the City of Brocade.

By the Song Dynasty, Sichuan brocade had made fast progress and was becoming more refined each day. And specialized production of Sichuan brocade developed in the Qing Dynasty. In many brocade shops of Chengdu, where great painters and brocade masters assembled, exquisite brocade was being produced in large quantities, and Sichuan brocade was honored as being an “object without equal in the world.”

Silk has been produced in Sichuan Province in abundance since ancient times and Chengdu was the starting point of the southern Silk Road. Sichuan brocade is produced with local silk and colored silk threads as the raw materials, and special embroidery skills are used to make brocade into quilt covers, pillowcases, clothes and shoes.

The subjects of the brocade are rich and varied. Some come from legends, myths, historical stories, and others come from landscape, figures, flowers, birds and animals, especially auspicious beasts that symbolize fortune and longevity.