Chinese Suzhou Embroidery in Tang, Song, and Qing Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) could be characterized as the golden age of China. During the Tang era, the economy prospered; traders and travelers came from as far as India, Arabia, Japan and Southeast Asia to work and live in the capitol, Chang'an, which was considered the center of the world by the Chinese.
Tang rulers were also tolerant of foreigners as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other religious groups coexisted in harmony. Religious pilgrimage was also encouraged as countless tales and stories were written about monks traveling along the famous Silk Route bringing back invaluable Buddhist scriptures to China. Under Tang rule, culture and the arts flourished. Painting style was elegant, reflecting the general prosperity of the golden age of Chinese feudal society.
Since the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 222-A.D. 280) Suzhou was involved in the export trade along the Silk Road, with Chinese silk eventually traded as far as Japan, Persia, Greece and Rome. Two routes were utilized, one leading by land through Central Asia, the other based on naval routes to Southeast Asia, then to ports of the Indian Ocean, Red Sea or Persian gulf. Silk weaving skills were highly developed by the Tang Dynasty.
Silk from Tang Dynasty is not only colorful and lustrous, but also very rich and beautiful in pattern. Suzhou Silk embroidery at Tang Dynasty has a wide range of themes including birds, beasts, flowers, and trees etc. Phoenix, peacock, parrot, mandarin duck and hoopoe were often used in embroidering, printing and dyeing. Sometimes the birds were mixed with bees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, insects. Beasts such as lions, unicorns, tigers, leopards, deer, camel were mainly used in the subject patterns of heavily colored brocade. Among flowers and trees, peony was most favorite subject while twining branches, crossing branches and a bunch of flowers were used together.
Song dynasty(960-1279) witnessed agricultural and technological improvements. Advanced farming increased crop production dramatically. Cotton planting was widely spread during the 12th century. Song dynasty takes the place of the particular period to uphold the atmosphere of embroidery clothing. Gradually it became extensive popular among the people, which has urged further development of Chinese silk embroidery business. Silk, Porcelain, and tea are three major exports at Song Dynasty.
Suzhou embroidery was so popular in the Song dynasty that people even named their lanes with names concerned with silk and embroidery. Almost every family raised silkworm and embroidered.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Suzhou embroidery reached its peak, with the prevalence of various styles and master embroiders. The embroidered products used by the royal family were almost exclusively from Suzhou. Folk embroidery products were even more diverse, including decorations on garments, theater costumes, quilt covers, cushions, shoes, perfume bags and fan bags. They were extremely popular among common people.
In the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, Shen Shou absorbed Western fine arts and combined them with traditional Chinese embroidery skills to create the simulated embroidery with ray effects.
Suzhou embroidery products were sent to participate in the Panama World Fair in 1915. Since then, the style has become increasingly famous throughout the world.
In the 1930s, the irregular embroidery technique was created in the Zhengze Girl's Vocationa1 School in Danyang. In 1957, the Embroidery Research Institute was established in Suzhou.