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Sericulture dates back to about 2640 BC in ancient China. The Chinese Empress Hsi Ling Shi (venerated as the Goddess of Silk) gave her royal patronage to the silk industry. She invented the loom and applied it to the production of highly prized silk fabrics.

For some 3,000 years the secrets of silk production were closely guarded by the Chinese. It was not until about AD 300 that a secret mission from Japan succeeded in penetrating China. The members of the mission obtained silkworms and brought four Chinese girls back to Japan to teach the Japanese the art of sericulture and the uses of silk.

According to legend, the silk industry spread to India when a Chinese princess was given in marriage to an Indian prince. When she went to India, the princess carried silkworm eggs and mulberry seeds concealed in her headdress. From India the silk industry spread into Persia and Central Asia, then slowly filtered into the Mediterranean countries.

Beginning early in the 2nd century BC, caravans traveled the Silk Road, a 4,000-mile (6,400-kilometer) trade route linking China with the West. The route began in Sian in China and wound its way to the countries along the eastern Mediterranean shores. From there the silk was transported to Rome. The Silk Road did not begin to decline until the 7th century AD, when the sea trade routes from China became fully developed and were safer to travel than the Silk Road. The Silk Road allowed a highly lucrative trade in silk fabrics to develop.



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