Political disunity during the third to sixth centuries brought close interaction with Central Asia, leading to new styles and techniques relating to textile production. Tang silks reflect these closer contacts established during the previous centuries. The Tang maintained an open capital with foreigners among its merchants and varied ethnic and religious groups among its populace. A general shift in weaving techniques distinguishes Tang silk from that of the Han dynasty. While Han patterns were warp-patterned, the weavings of Tang came to be weft-patterned.
Some of the best Tang textiles survive in temples in Japan, where Chinese fabrics have been carefully preserved in Buddhist temples since before the eighth century. The most important of these holdings is that of the Shoso-in (a storehouse dedicated at Todai-ji, Nara, in 756, for the donated collection of Emperor Shomu), which contains various garments and other textiles believed to have been brought back to Japan by Buddhist monks returning from China.
Investigation of Chinese textiles was stimulated by stunning discoveries of well-preserved ancient textiles in Central Asian sites, including Sir Aurel Stein's expeditions in northwest China and inner Asia (in 1900, 1906-1908, 1913-1916 and 1930). Discoveries at Dun-huang's Buddhist cave temples yielded a new range of textiles for study, and brought about an early appreciation of the importance of textiles in Buddhist ritual. Such textiles were probably pious offerings made by Buddhists from Central Asia, especially Sogdiana, as well as from China. Many of the silks were sewn into banners or other adornments for Buddhist chapels, or into wrappers for sacred texts (sutra scrolls). A mantle (kashaya) for a Buddhist priest, its patchwork symbolizing the vow of poverty, was also found. Many of the silk textiles have bright patterns, woven or embroidered, while others were adorned after weaving by painting, printing, stenciling, or by dyeing using resist techniques including clamp-resist, wax-resist and tie-dyeing. The weaving techniques documented in these finds include silk tapestry (kesi), gauze, and damasks, as well as compound weft-faced and warp-faced weaves that were probably woven on a drawloom. These finds confirm that patronage of Buddhism encouraged creation of pictorial textiles either woven in the kesi technique or embroidered with highly refined use of stitches (often satin stitch) to create representational effects.
Important examples of Tang silks have been found at Famen Temple, Shaanxi province. Here, a ritual offering datable to c.e. 874 included about 700 textiles including brocades (many with metallic threads), twill, gauze, pongee, embroidery, and printed silk. Among them was a set of miniature Buddhist vestments including a model of a kashaya, an apron (or altar frontal), and clothing, all couched with gold-wrapped threads on a silk gauze ground in patterns of lotus blossoms and clouds.
Was this article helpful?