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The jewel in China's crown

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:47 ( CHINA DAILY )
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What the Song court did in the face of imminent demise held up a mirror to history: They moved their capital across the Yangtze River, to Lin'an (modern-day Hangzhou), the southernmost end of the Grand Canal.

"The comparability is obvious, but there were also major differences. While the Jin rulers were pushed into Jiangnan by circumstance, their Song counterparts clearly felt its pull. Knowing too well the potential of Jiangnan, the latter helped to fully unlock it in the ensuing one-and-a-half centuries," says Zhao Feng, dean of Zhejiang University's School of Art and Archaeology.

Following the relocation of the Song court, China's silk and textile production center shifted from the country's north to Jiangnan, whose warm climate made it ideal for both the growing of mulberry trees and the wearing of flimsy silk clothing. The Cleveland show features a 12th-century silk gauze robe on loan from the Hangzhou-based China National Silk Museum — one of 80 articles of silk clothing unearthed from the tomb of an upper-class lady in the region.

And silk, like the locally produced green porcelain known as celadon, became Jiangnan's biggest export to international and domestic markets. Immense wealth was generated where the ruling elite resided, giving rise to a dynamic luxury sector catering to their demands.

"Jade, mahogany wood, rhinoceros horn — none of them were indigenous to Jiangnan, yet they were all sent to the workshops there to be sweated over by the country's best craftsmen, before being sold on the local market," says Shi.

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