Nanjing is a city with a long history and deep
culture. It has been the capital of a number of regional and national
dynasties throughout China's long history. Nanjing was a major cultural
center in China when Shanghai was still an unimportant fishing village.
A remarkable "living" museum in the city
is the Brocade Museum. I call it "living," because it still
produces brocade using the old-fashioned looms as they were used 700 years
ago. It is probably the least-known of what I would call major tourist
sites in the city. I first learned of it through a Canadian teacher at my
school, in 1998 and visited it out of curiosity. It is located immediately
behind the frequented memorial to the victims of the Rape of Nanking, but
until recently, there was no easy way to get from one to the other. The rear
wall of the larger museum's parking lot contained a door, but it was kept
locked most of the time. Apparently, there was little effort on the part
of the tour guide industry to include the smaller brocade museum. When I
first visited, it was dusty and very low-key. I have taken a number of
people there, but hadn't visited in several months. On a recent trip, I
was glad to see that the place has been totally renovated and is now very
actively seeking tourists and is making its wares available throughout the
city in places that sell Chinese arts and crafts.
The brocade produced here is called Yun (cloud)
Brocade. It was created in the Yuan Dynasty, around 1300 AD and flourished
in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Remember, the Ming Dynasty was founded
with Nanjing as its capital in 1368 and wasn't moved to Beijing until 1421
when the Imperial Palace was completed. In those earlier years, the
brocade produced was used almost exclusively for royal costumes and
Today, it is still hand-woven on the huge wooden
looms, requiring the cooperation of two weavers. The jacqard weaver works
at the top of the loom determining the figured pattern, while the weaver
on the ground operates the shuttle carrying the proper color of thread.
The ground-level operator also uses his feet, a little like an organ
player, lifting the vertical frames you see here. Only two or three inches
of brocade can be woven in a day. No wonder it was so valued by the
emperors and is so expensive today.
The museum includes displays of finished pieces that
they say were produced at least as long ago as the Qing dynasty
On the third floor of the museum there are different
displays of looms and weaving methods of minority peoples in China. These
are practical processes used by local people to produce cloth for daily
The museum has always had a store, but today it has
become much larger and displays a wide variety of goods. Some are not so
expensive and are machine-made, but you can buy art objects made on the
old looms, for a price.
I am very glad that this museum is now more
accessible (the rear gate of the neighboring museum is now open all the
time, making access quite simple), and well decorated, making it more
attractive to visit. I hope large numbers of both Chinese and foreign
tourists will visit there to marvel at the skill of Chinese weaving and to
understand more of the rich culture.