Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

중국국립비단박물관 © 펭 자오

The China National Silk Museum Contributing to ICH Safeguarding

The China National Silk Museum (CNSM) first opened in February 1992 and reopened in September 2016. Now it has become one of the first state-level museums in China, where audiences will find 9,000 square meters of displays in a typical southern Chinese garden of 42,286 square meters near West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The museum is divided into several galleries. The first is the Silk Road Gallery, in which the permanent exhibition The Way of Chinese Silk: Silk History and the Silk Road introduces Chinese silk historically and the Silk Road geometrically. Both the earliest preserved silk from the Qianshanyang site, Huzhou, (c.2200 BCE) and the earliest pattern loom model from Laoguanshan, Chengdu, (c.100 BCE) are on display. In the underground of the Silk Road Gallery, the Textile Training Center offers professional courses related to weaving, dyeing, embroidering, and braiding to satisfy the demand of the people who love traditional textile culture and those who wish to inherit traditional skills.

On 28 September 2009, Sericulture and Silk Craftsmanship of China was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. To help the audience better understand the intangible cultural heritage, the Sericulture and Weaving Galleries provides more information on how the silk is made. There are five sections of the exhibition, which are The Story of the Silkworm, Folk Customs in the Birthplace of Sericulture, Silk-making Techniques, Textile Printing, Dyeing and Embroidery and Weaving Techniques, displaying more than 270 objects covering the whole process from planting mulberry trees, raising silkworms, releasing silk from cocoons, dyeing, weaving, and embroidery. The techniques in the exhibition combine static displays with live demonstration.

Outside the gallery, the sericulture house is in the east part of the museum, where tourists are able to see real mulberry trees as well as traditional residential buildings in the countryside. On special holidays and festivals, the museum organizes activities such as watching and practicing traditional sericulture skills in the museum and visiting sericulture temple fairs in Xinshi, as an approach for audiences to have an in-depth exploration of sericulture.

When visiting the Textile Conservation Gallery, besides temporary exhibitions, audiences can see how the silk treasures from throughout the country are being treated, repaired, and installed or packed.

Lastly, the Fashion Gallery is the only gallery in China focusing on the contemporary costumes. There are several sections, one for Chinese fashion of the twentieth century, one for Western fashion of the past 400 years, and a temporary special exhibition gallery, A World of Silks, in 2016 and A World of Looms in 2018. A World of Silks used geographical order introduced the production and usage of silk in different regions, divided into categories of weaving, tie dying, and embroidering, etc. A World of Looms presented the rich cultural heritage of looms and weaving technologies from around the world. The displays included more than fifty looms and many of their associated textiles, organized by geographical location.

As for scientific research, many projects on reconstructing traditional looms and weaving processes and the replication of textiles from ancient times have been carried out. For instance, under the support of three projects, CNSM has completed the replication of jin silk with the characters wu xing chu dong fang li zhong guo (五星出东方利中国), which is a national treasure-level cultural relic excavated in the Niya Ruins of Xinjiang Province. The hook-shaft pattern loom with sliding frames was used for the replication, the model of which was a pattern loom discovered in a Han dynasty tomb in Laoguanshan, Chengdu. Research on natural dyes, including dye analyses of ancient textiles and degradation of natural colorants to understand their compositions, physical properties, and processes of aging is an important part as well.

In 2016, CNSM established a new scientific laboratory and, high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometer, micro-Raman spectroscope and fiber optic reflectance spectroscope were set up, which can provide micro-sampling, ultra-sensitive, and non-destructive protocols. Based on the authentic evidence obtained from dye analysis and combing it with historical documents, the reconstitution of the Qing dynasty palette was successfully accomplished in 2018.