Silkworm: A Gift from the Stars

Ariel Tian, Contributor, Ping Ping Yu, Contributing Translate, Evan Mantyk, Editor

The belief in the unity of Heaven and humans is at the heart of China’s ancient civilization. Ancient Chinese believed that their culture was bestowed by Heaven, and that every cultural element, including every line of work, originated from higher realms of existence. Silk and sericulture, the process of cultivating silkworms and extracting silk fiber, were no exception.

One ancient legend holds that the knowledge of silk cultivation was bestowed upon mankind from the court of the Yellow Emperor. Another legend holds that silkworms came from the spirit of the horse constellation, which corresponds roughly to Centaurus in the Western tradition. In Chinese it’s called, the Horse’s Tail and the Horse’s Body—Mǎ Wěi ((馬尾) and Mǎ Fù (馬腹).

The events in this tale were fabled to have occurred in the middle of the second millennium BCE. It was a time so long ago that history and myth were intertwined. Our legend begins at the time that the Emperor Ku, a descendent of the Yellow Emperor, was ruling the Middle Kingdom. A father went to war leaving his white horse and daughter at home. Missing her father, the daughter jokingly told the horse, “If you bring back my father, I’ll marry you.” The horse broke loose of his tether and galloped to the battlefield. Seeing the horse alone, the father thought there was trouble at home, and rode the horse back.

Upon seeing the daughter, the white horse approached her as if to carry her away. The father beat away the horse, and asked the daughter what had happened. When he heard the story, he killed the horse, skinned it, and dried the hide in the yard. The daughter kicked the horse’s hide and said, “You wanted to marry a human, take what you deserve!” The horse skin then jumped up, wrapped the girl within it, and flew away.

The father looked everywhere for the girl, but found only an unusually large silkworm in her place. A woman next door took the worm home and fed it. After the cocoon was formed, she boiled it to free the silk, and it provided a good bounty: a double harvest of silk thread that was both light and strong.

After some time passed, the father one day saw the daughter descend from the sky, riding on the white horse and followed by dozens of heavenly guards. The daughter said to her parents, “Dear Mother and Father, Heaven commended me for my filial piety to Father, and for not betraying my oath. I’ve been made a fairy and given an immortal life in Heaven. Please do not mourn for me.” With these words the daughter returned to Heaven.

This ancient fable not only provides a mystical origin related to bounteous silk harvests, it also stresses the importance of filial piety and keeping one’s word. Ancient China was a civilization that emphasized harmony with nature and reverence for the divine. On the thin but beautiful threads of silk one can see the transmission of the elegant and sustaining spirit of Chinese civilization as well as a spiritual inspiration for one’s own life. The silk scarves of Shen Yun Collections are inspired by the performing arts of Shen Yun, which is creating a rebirth, or renaissance, of ancient Chinese civilization. This is a reawakening in which the millennia of silk culture plays a beautiful part.

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