Chinese Textiles of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Textiles reach far back in China's history, the earliest extant examples dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 222 CE). The high technical achievements of Han textiles suggest that they are the culmination of a gradual development of silk cultivation and weaving that began in prehistoric times. The Chinese were the first to cultivate the silkworm, which feed on the leaves of the mulberry tree, spinning a cocoon of silk. These cocoons were unravelled and the silk fibers spun into threads for the beautiful textiles for which China was known throughout the world. The Silk Road, linking China wiht the West, was so named because silk was an important commodity traded along its route.
The high quality of Chinese textiles continued into the Ch'ing Dynasty. Examples of later textiles from this dynasty, especially teh K'ang-hsi and Chien Lung periods (1662-1795) exhibit a wide variety of design techniques, from painted tapestry weave and applique to embroidery techniques such as satin stitch, couching and needlepoint.
Chinese textiles embody a visual vocabulary reflecting its complex religoius and secular culture ranging from Confucianism to Taoism to Buddhism. The embroidered gauze altar colth (55.212), originally a summer robe, shows on its lower border a mountain peak (symbol of earth) rising out of diagonal stripes (heaven), a depictino of the Confucian universe. The white elephant depicted on another altar cloth (55.226) symbolized strength, wisdom, and prudence. On his back he carries auspicious objects representing the universe.