Silk is more than a textile; the silk trade changed the political and economic history of the world just as surely as it changed fashion. According to the Silk Road Foundation, ancient Chinese workers could pay their taxes in silk, and its manufacture was a closely guarded monopoly for centuries. The discovery of silk-making predates Chinese dynasties, belonging instead to the quasi-legendary days of the Yellow Emperor.

Lady Xi-Ling-Shih’s Tea

Empress Xi-Ling-Shih was drinking tea under a mulberry tree one day around 3,000 years B.C., according to a story related by Confucius. The cocoon of the silkworm, a larval moth, dropped into her cup and unraveled, and the empress noticed that the filaments were long and fine, but strong. Archeological evidence, however, suggests that sericulture -- or silk cultivation -- may even be several thousand years older than that story attests; some tools and fibers are 6,000-7,000 years old.

The Yellow Emperor’s Reign

Huang-Di, literally “Yellow Emperor,” was a deity or godlike being variously depicted as a four-faced human or a king over four elemental sub-deities. The first and primary of the Five August Emperors, he is credited with inventing many of the basics of early Chinese civilization, including agriculture, weapons and wells. Historians and archeologists call this period of Chinese prehistory the Yanghshao era, after the representative neolithic village they excavated in 1921.