Weaving dreams

Chinese wonder

Delhiites were recently treated to an exhibition of fine Chinese silk cloth ‘Nanjing Yun Jin brocade.’ Aptly titled ‘The cream of Nanjing Yun Jin brocade,’ it displayed several panels elucidating the origin, history and development of this Chinese cloth-making technique.

Silk appeared in China first 7000 years ago. For the next 5000 years at least, the art of making silk stayed with Chinese craftsmen alone, coveted by Romans, Indians and Persians alike. Many different kinds of brocades were made with it among which Nanjing Yun Jin brocade has been held as the most sophisticated, elegant and beautiful for combining varied colours, patterns and cultural symbols from all parts of China.

Zhand Zhihong, cultural counsillor at embassy of China, which conducted this exhibition, said, “Yun Jin brocade, meaning ‘cloud brocade’ in Chinese because of its circular patterns, is a part of our country’s history and heritage. It has shaped our past, culture, economy and has considerable influence over our present as well. It is one of China’s most precious gifts to the world.”

“Indians and Chinese, both carry a fondness for handicrafts. Both the civilisations have long-standing traditions in cloth weaving by hands and handloom, printing, dying etc. So we thought, why not introduce our Indian friends to the Yun Jin brocade? We are hopeful that this exhibition will arouse the interest of Indians in this fine Chinese cloth as well.”

The text of the panels, accompanied by rich photographs, explained the history of Yun Jin brocade well. It is said that when General Liu Yu of Nanjing, the Capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, defeated Xi’an’s Qin kingdom, he brought their craftsmen here.

These artisans, who learnt their craft from various ethnic minority groups, started making Yun Jin brocade here. That is how it got its name Nanjing Yun Jin.
Initially, it was made for the royalty alone. Only after China started producing surplus silk and Yun Jin, did it become available to common citizens.

Yun Jin brocade is famous for its gorgeous symbols and patters. These include the dragon (standing for power and dignity), phoenix (for prosperity), Buddhist and Taoist motifs like lotus, Tangkha etc., birds, animals, fruits, flowers and more. In the olden days, the dragon and phoenix symbols could be used on the Yun Jin robes of the emperor and empress alone. Anyone who used these two symbols other than the royalty were prosecuted.

Even after the advent of the modern machine loom, this brocade is still made on the traditional Chinese ‘flowerloom’ only due to its unique technical requirements. In 2009, Nanjing brocade was selected into candidate programmes of the oral and intangible heritage of humans at UNESCO.

Though the panels on display were very informative, most visitors complained about the absence of actual Yun Jin brocade. One such visitor, Satish Sharma, exclaimed, “The presentation was no doubt enchanting and enlightening, but there was no real brocade. I am sure they could have displayed some. That would have made the final impression.”

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