Embroidery, a folk art with a long
tradition, has an important position in the history of Chinese arts and crafts.
In its long development embroidery has been inseparable from silkworm raising
and silk reeling and weaving.
China was the first country in the world to
weave silk. Silkworms were domesticated as early as some 5,000 years ago. The
production of silk threads and fabrics gave rise to the art of embroidery. In
1958, a piece of silk embroidered with a dragon and phoenix was discovered in a
state of Chu tomb of the Warring Sates Period (475-221BC). More than 2,000 years
old, it is the earliest piece of Chinese embroidery ever unearthed. Embroidery
became widespread during the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) and many embroidered
pieces discovered date back to that period.
Today, silk embroidery is practiced nearly
all over China. The Four Famous Embroideries of China refer to the Xiang
embroidery in central China's Hunan Province, Shu embroidery in western China's
Sichuan Province, Yue embroidery in southern China's Guangdong Province and Su
embroidery in eastern China's Jiangsu Province.
Xiang embroidery is
well known for its time-honored history, excellent craftsmanship and unique
style. The earliest piece of Xiang embroidery was unearthed at the No 1 Tomb of
Mawangdui, Changsha City of the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). The weaving technique
was almost the same as the one used in modern times, which demonstrated that
embroidery had already existed in the Han Dynasty. In its later development,
Xiang Embroidery absorbed the characteristics of traditional Chinese paintings
and formed its own unique characteristics. Xiang embroidery experienced its
heyday at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and in the early Republic of
China (early 20th century), even surpassing Su embroidery. After the founding of
the People's Republic of China, Xiang embroidery was further improved and
developed to a new level.
Xiang embroidery uses pure silk, hard satin,
soft satin and nylon as its material, which is connected with colorful silk
threads. Absorbing the spirit of Chinese paintings, the embroidery reaches a
high artistic level. Xiang embroidery crafts include valuable works of art, as
well as materials for daily use.
Also called Chuan embroidery, Shu embroidery
is the general name for embroidery products in areas around Chengdu, Sichuan
Province. Shu embroidery enjoys a long history. As early as the Han Dynasty, Shu
embroidery was already famous. The central government even designated an office
in this area for its administration. During the Five Dynasties and Ten States
periods (907-960), a peaceful society and large demand provided advanced
conditions for the rapid development of the Shu Embroidery industry. Shu
embroidery experienced its peak development in the Song Dynasty (960-1279),
ranking first in both production and excellence. In the mid-Qing Dynasty, the
Shu embroidery industry was formed. After the founding of the People's Republic
of China, Shu embroidery factories were set up and the craft entered a new phase
of development, using innovative techniques and a larger variety of forms.
Originating among the folk people in the west of Sichuan Province, Shu
embroidery formed its own unique characteristics: smooth, bright, neat and
influenced by the geographical environment, customs and cultures. The works
incorporated flowers, leaves, animals, mountains, rivers and human figures as
their themes. Altogether, there are 122 approaches in 12 categories for weaving.
The craftsmanship of Shu embroidery involves a combination of fine arts,
aesthetics and practical uses, such as the facings of quits, pillowcases, coats,
shoots and screen covers.
Also called Guang
embroidery, Yue embroidery is a general name for embroidery products of the
regions of Guangzhou, Shantou, Zhongshan, Fanyu and Shunde in Guangdong
Province. According to historical records, in the first year of Yongyuan's reign
(805) during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a girl named Lu Meiniang embroidered
the seventh volume of the Fahua Buddhist Scripture on a piece of thin silk 30 cm
long. And so, Yue embroidery became famous around the country. The prosperous
Guangzhou Port of the Song Dynasty promoted the development of Yue embroidery,
which began to be exported at that time. During the Qing Dynasty, people animal
hair as the raw material for Yue embroidery, which made the works more vivid.
During Qianlong's reign (1736-1796) of the Qing, an industrial organization was
established in Guangzhou. At that time, a large number of craftsmen devoted
themselves to the craft, inciting further improvements to the weaving technique.
Since 1915, the work of Yue embroidery garnered several awards at the Panama
Influenced by national folk art, Yue embroidery formed its own unique
characteristics. The embroidered pictures are mainly of dragons and phoenixes,
and flowers and birds, with neat designs and strong, contrasting colors. Floss,
thread and gold-and-silk thread embroidery are used to produce costumes,
decorations for halls and crafts for daily use.
With a history of more
than 3,000 years, Su embroidery is the general name for embroidery products in
areas around Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. The craft, which dates back to the Three
Kingdoms Period (220-280), became a sideline of people in the Suzhou area during
the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Well known for its smoothness and delicateness, Su
embroidery won Suzhou the title City of Embroidery in the Qing Dynasty. In the
mid and late Qing, Su embroidery experienced further developments involving
works of double-sided embroidering. There were 65 embroidery stores in Suzhou
City. During the Republic of China period (1912-1949), the Su embroidery
industry was in decline due to frequent wars and it was restored and regenerated
after the founding of new China. In 1950, the central government set up research
centers for Su embroidery and launched training courses for the study of
embroidery. Weaving methods have climbed from 18 to the present 40.
Su embroidery features a strong, folk flavor and its weaving techniques are
characterized by the following: the product surface must be flat, the rim must
be neat, the needle must be thin, the lines must be dense, the color must be
harmonious and bright and the picture must be even. Su embroidery products fall
into three major categories: costumes, decorations for halls and crafts for
daily use, which integrate decorative and practical values. Double-sided
embroidery is an excellent representative of Su embroidery.
In addition to the four major embroidery styles there
are Ou embroidery of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province; Bian embroidery of Kaifeng,
Henan Province and Han embroidery of Wuhan, Hubei