Several thousand years ago, when the silk trade first reached Europe via the Silk Road, it brought with it not only gorgeous silk apparel and decorative items, but also the ancient and resplendent culture of the Far East. From then on, silk was regarded as the emissary and symbol of Eastern civilization. The earliest silk article discovered to date is approximately 4700 years old, unearthed from a tomb dating from China,s Liangzhu Culture (c. 3300-2200 BC).
According to an ancient Chinese legend, the Silkworm Goddess appeared to the Yellow Emperor, the legendary ancestor of the Chinese people, after he vanquished his adversary Chi You. She presented him with silk fibers spun from her own mouth as a sign of respect. The Yellow Emperor ordered the fibers woven into cloth and made into silk apparel, which he found exceedingly soft and comfortable. His wife, Lei Zu of the Xiling clan, searched until she found a type of caterpillar capable of spinning silk fibers from its mouth. She raised these silkworms by feeding them mulberry leaves she picked herself. Later generations came to worship Lei Zu as the Silkworm Goddess, and the Yellow Emperor as the God of Weaving. Sericulture, including cultivating the mulberry plant, raising silkworms, and producing silk fabric, has been an essential form of labor in China throughout the millennia.
China is the birthplace of sericulture. Raising silkworms and reeling the silk from their cocoons was ancient China,s greatest achievement in the utilization of natural fibers. As long ago as the Neolithic Age (c. 12,000-2000 BC), the Chinese ancestors had invented flat-weaving and figured-weaving techniques, and were tinting cloth using natural vermilion dye. With improvements in loom construction and printing and dying methods, more varieties of silk were developed and a comprehensive system of cloth dying evolved. China possessed the most advanced silk dying and weaving techniques of the ancient world.