Jili silk

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 December, 2010, 12:00am

World famous

Jili became internationally famous at the first World Expo in London in 1851. A Chinese businessman had displayed silk from the town. The silk won gold and silver prizes presented by Queen Victoria. The queen later received the silk as a birthday gift.

The silk was used to make gowns, slippers and scarves. It was sold all over the world. Although people may not have known much about Jili, they did know about the silk that came from this little town in Zhejiang province ().

Respected at home

Before 1851, Jili silk was well known and respected in China. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Jili silk was used for to make the clothing of the imperial court in Beijing. Even the emperor wore Jili silk clothing.

At one time Jili silk was so valued by the Chinese, foreigners were not able to buy it. Nobody could take it out of the country. But some people eventually did.


The earliest silk in the world came from Zhejiang. Archaeologists found a tool from the area with pictures of silkworms on it. This tool was used in 4,000 BC.

The people of Jili made silk by hand. They continued to do so even when other people started to make silk more quickly in factories.

Silk Roads

From the third century BC, there were 'Silk Roads' in Europe. These were the roads used to bring silk from the East to sell in Europe.

Westerners had no idea how silk was made. They thought it grew on trees. But one day silkworms were smuggled into Europe.

Jili today

Today there are only 50 families farming silk in Jili. The young people have moved to the cities to look for work. Only the parents are left. Their homes are grouped around a pond. The mulberry trees, which supply the leaves for the silkworms, grow around the edge.

When factories started making silk, Jili could not keep up.

The 2010 World Expo was held only 130 kilometres northeast of Jili, in Shanghai. Sadly, Jili silk was not put forward for any awards.

What changed?

Why did things change in such a short time? There are a couple of reasons.

The water in Jili was very clean at the time of the first World Expo. After 1949, the Communists tried to industrialise China. All those factories poured their dirty water into the rivers, which led to the Jili pond. Clean water is vital for silk production, or sericulture as it is known.

Also, the residents of Jili don't make silk themselves anymore. A few of them sell silkworm cocoons. They don't even do that as much as they used to.


Some in Jili say that the government does not care about silk-making in Jili anymore.

The government is promoting silk production in western China. This is done to create jobs for people.

Source: New York Times

Now do this

1 In which province is the town of Jili?

a. Xinjiang

b. Zhejiang

c. Tianjin

2 The leaves of which trees are fed to the silkworms?

a. banyan

b. mulberry

c. loquat

3 What is the correct name for silk production?

a. horticulture

b. agriculture

c. sericulture