A brief history of silk: Part 2 of 2

August 29, 2013

Ships from the Roman Empire first sailed to India and bought silk, which became very popular in Rome. In fact, purple silk was worth its weight in gold.

Eventually the Roman merchants set up trading posts all the way to China and reached Canton; then traded in Chang-Cheou near today’s Shanghai. Source: Romano-Chinese Relations

Until 73 AD, the sea route was the only one open since the caravan routes along the Silk Road were closed at that time.

Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (31 BC to 14 AD) earned credit for establishing trade between Rome and China.

In 166 AD, Roman travelers arrived at the Court of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 219 AD). These Romans met powerful representative of the Han Dynasty.

About the same time, Buddhist missionaries arrived in China by ship from India and introduced Buddhism to China.

The next paragraph may sound as if history were repeating itself between the U.S. and China.

Romans spent recklessly. Gold left Rome and flowed to the East at such a rate that the government had to restrict imports. After a long period of prosperity in Rome, the empire entered a serious economic crisis. 

Rome was bankrupt from this overspending and couldn’t maintain the hundreds of thousands of troops needed to protect the empire. 

In 312 AD, Constantine moved the Roman capital to Constantinople.  In 395, the Roman Empire was divided between the Western and Eastern Empires. Then the Western Roman Empire collapsed.

Return to or start with A brief history of silk: Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


A brief history of silk: Part 1 of 2

August 27, 2013

I read an Associated Press piece by Mansur Mirovalev about silk’s so-called dark side where Uzbek children had to work and grow cocoons.


Silkworms in a Chinese silk factory

However, that’s not what this post is about.  I will say this. I didn’t see much that was wrong in Mirovalev’s piece about what was taking place in Uzbekistan. About a century ago, American children once worked in the fields alongside their parents. I see nothing wrong with that.

In fact, for most of history, children were just seen as smaller people and had to work just like adults did.


Worker makes silk cloth from a silkworm.

I’ve often read about the Silk Road, but I was curious and wanted to know more about the history of silk so I did some Google research and discovered that silk has a long history in China.

For example, in 1984, silk fabric dating back more than 5000 years was found in Henan Province.


How silk is made.

According to legend, Lei Zu, the queen of China’s legendary Yellow Emperor, was drinking a cup of tea beneath a mulberry tree one day when a silkworm cocoon fell into her cup. Further investigation revealed that the unraveling fibers were light and tough, ripe for spinning. Thus China’s silk industry was born.

What I didn’t know was that merchants from the Roman Empire sent ships by sea to China and traded directly with the Han Dynasty. It’s well known that China traded with India, the Persians and even Europe using a land route called the silk road across Asia. But this was the first time I heard of ships from Europe reaching China about two thousand years ago.

Continued on August 29, 2013 in A brief history of silk: Part 2

Discover A Millennia of History at a Silk Road Oasis

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


Silk – Part 1/2

September 6, 2010

I was reading an Associated Press piece by Mansur Mirovalev on Silk’s dark side about Uzbek children made to grow cocoons. If you are interested in that story, click the link.

Silkworms in a Chinese silk factory

However, that’s not what this post is about.  I will say this. I didn’t see much that was dark about what was taking place in Uzbekistan. About a century ago, American children once worked in the fields alongside their parents. I see nothing wrong with that. The Uzbek families not being paid is another matter.

Worker makes silk cloth from a silkworm.

I’ve often read about the Silk Road, but I was curious and wanted to know more about the history of silk so I did some virtual hunting.

Silk has a long history in China. In 1984, silk fabric dating back more than 5000 years was found in Henan Province.

How silk is made.

According to legend, Lei Zu, the queen of China’s legendary Yellow Emperor, was drinking a cup of tea beneath a mulberry tree one day when a silkworm cocoon fell into her cup. Further investigation revealed that the unraveling fibers were light and tough, ripe for spinning. Thus China’s silk industry was born.  Source: The History of Silk

What I didn’t know was that merchants from the Roman Empire sent ships by sea to China and traded directly with the Han Dynasty, which I’ll write about in Silk – Part 2.

See A Millennia of History at a Silk Road Oasis

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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A High Price for Chinese Porcelain

July 30, 2010

Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province is a well-known Chinese porcelain city and has been an important production center in China since the early Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Chinese porcelain originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC). Source: China Paper Online

Frances Miller writes about collecting antique Canton china at Suite 101.com. He says, “Since the 18th century, blue and white porcelain china originating from the port of Canton has been filling cabinets in America… and was a staple on the dining tables of such prominent Americans as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.”  

“The demand for Chinese products—tea, porcelain, silk, and nankeen (a coarse, strong cotton cloth)—continued after the Revolution. Having seen the British make great profits from the trade when the colonies were prevented from direct trade with China, Americans were eager to secure these profits for themselves.” Source: Early American Trade With China

This hunger for Chinese products, while the Chinese found little in the West to buy, led to the Opium Wars, which Britain and France started and won to force China to even the trade imbalance. Then China sold the West silk, porcelain and tea while the West sold China opium.

Today, we still hear angry voices complain about the unfair trade imbalance between China and the US. Can anyone blame China for maintaining a powerful military?

See The Accidental Discovery of Gunpowder

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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The Opium Wars in the 19th Century (1800s)

June 28, 2010

China began the 19th century confident of its superiority over the rest of the world.  China’s population numbered 400 million. The Qing (Manchu) Empire controlled the world’s biggest economy.  China enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with the West—receiving a huge amount of money for its silk, porcelain, and tea.

By 1800, the British consumed 10,000 tons of tea annually.  So much money poured into China, that one Chinese merchant became the richest man in the world, and all foreign business with was restricted to one city, Canton.

However, Britain had a product to reverse that balance of trade—opium. The British shipped opium into China and up its rivers to almost every part of China.  So many became addicted to the drug, the stability China was threatened.

Then in 1839, the Emperor acted to stop the opium trade. Lin, the man in charge, wrote to Queen Victoria asking for her help. Ignored by Great Britain, Lin resorted to confiscating the opium and destroying it, which led to the Opium Wars started by Britain and France, who respected nothing but force. China lost the war and was forced to pay for a war they did not want and did not start.

In the British parliament, William Gladstone criticized his government calling the Opium war a disgrace.

See Mao’s War Against Illegal Drugs

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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Hangzhou Mansion

February 25, 2010

After cruising on the West Lake at Hangzhou with Bob Grant, you may want to see this government run tourist attraction in the city. Before the Communists claimed China, this mansion was owned by a family that made its money first in the silk industry and then banking.

rock art in garden with tunnels

There’s more to the mansion than this example of rock art in the garden.  These rocks were not here when the mansion was built. There was a time in China during the Imperial era where rock art was popular.

Pond with carp at Hangzhou Mansion

For a few yuan, you will be able to tour most of the mansion and the gardens (yes there is more than one garden area beyond what you see in these two pictures).  This mansion was in the city but once inside you have no sense of the crowded city surrounding the high walls.  Once the owner was home and the gates locked at night, this home become another world apart.