History of Chinese Embroidery

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Art and embroidery walk hand in hand covering long miles together where each mile cover a generation, passes it out, and greets the new one with the essence of previous one. Thus, a mark of tradition always remains in work of art that never fades, no matter how long the distance has been traveled. Historical evidence has always proved this with greater clarity. In case of China, when “Token Embroidery” and “Longevity Embroidery” excavated from the Mawangdui Han Tomb in Changsha, Hunan Province, they show the traces of Embroidery that is still alive in China. Madame Zhao, the chief of Wu could embroider map of various kingdoms with clear depiction of mountains, rivers, fields, and so forth. The map is said to be the earliest recorded embroidery in China. Folk art with long tradition and history has its own importance in Chinese Embroidery. In the long development of history and embroidery of China, silk has never loses its artistic value.


China & Tradition of Silk


China was the first country in the world that can weave Silk. In China, silkworms were cultivated since 5,000 years ago. In 1949 from the tomb of Warring States Period (475-221 B.C), a piece of silk with beautiful embroidery of dragon and phoenix has been discovered that was around 2, 000 years old. During Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), embroidery has taken a form art of whose pieces can be still discovered. At present, silk embroidery is very common and is practiced in all over China.



Embroidery & Chinese Dynasty


The four most popular embroideries of China are related to the different provinces that are further categorized according to Dynasties. Various dynasties of China have promoted different kinds of embroidery. The list of popular embroidery in China that was popular in particular dynasties are as follows:


Xiang Embroidery


Xiang embroidery has been excavated from1st tomb of Mawangdui, Changsha City of the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). However, Xiang Embroidery has witnessed its zenith at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as well as in Republic of China (early 20th century).


  • Specialty: Excellent craftsmanship and unique style

  • Theme: Valuable work of art and materials of daily use

  • Fabric: For Xiang Embroidery, pure silk, soft satin, hard satin, and nylon materials are used to be connected with vivid silk threads. Xiang embroidery depicts the spirit of Chinese Painting and thus shows high artistic level.



Shu Embroidery


Shu Embroidery is commonly found around Sichuan and Chengdu areas where it also popular as Chuan Embroidery. Shu Embroidery has seen its heyday during Song Dynasty (960-1279), topped in the production as well as creative value. This embroidery was largely demanded during the five Dynasties and ten states periods (907-960). However, People's Republic of China has set up Shu Embroidery factories that were equipped with innovative techniques.


  • Specialty: Unique, bright, and smooth.

  • Theme: Customs, geographical environment, and culture

  • Technique: 122 approaches in 12 categories for weaving

  • Crafted On: pillowcases, facing of quilts, screen covers, coats, shoots, etc.



Yue Embroidery


Yue Embroidery is popular in the province of Zhongshan, Guangzhou, Shantou, Shunde, and Fanyu and is commonly known as Guang Embroidery. As recorded by historians, a girl named Lu Meiniang in the first year of Yongyuan's reign (805) during Dynasty (618-907), has embroidered seventh volume of Buddhist Scripture on 30 cm long piece of thin silk that made the Yue Embroidery popular. During Qianlong's reign (1736-1796) of the Qing Dynasty, factories were set up in Guangzhou for the production of Yue Embroidery.

  • Specialty: Contrasting colors and clear design

  • Theme: Dragons and phoenixes

  • Influence: National folk art

  • Technique: Thread, floss, and gold-and-silk thread embroidery

  • Crafted On: Costumes



Su Embroidery


Su Embroidery boasts the history of 3, 000 long years in the province of Suzhou, Jiangsu. This type of embroidery dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the Republic of China period (1912-1949), Su Embroidery declined due to frequent wars and then refurbished after the founding of New China. During 1950, central government of China has established research center on Su Embroidery to study the weaving method due to which rise has been witnessed from 18 to 40.

  • Specialty: Folk flavor and double-sided embroidery

  • Weaving Technique: Flat surface, clean rim, and thin needle are required. Lines must be dense here with harmonious yet bright color and picture

  • Apt For: Costumes, daily use items, decorative for halls

  • Theme: Practice value and decoration



There are various other major embroidery styles such as Bian embroidery of Kaifeng, Henan Province, Ou embroidery of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, and Han embroidery of Wuhan, Hubei Province. All the above-mentioned embroideries are still poplar in the market.

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