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Fit for a King
Revival of Royal Yunjin Brocade
Text by Lei Hu Photographs by Pan Xiaochun

 

 The double loom, built by the Nanjing Yunjin Research Institute, requires two weavers to operate in close collaboration with each other. Usually, the machine is operated by a master and his or her student.  Each loom has a mirror at the bottom, which is used by weaver to monitor patterns on both sides of the cloth.  The horizontal and vertical lines of a pattern are drawn on paper before weaving.

Inside the spacious Guo Jun Studio in Nanjing Yunjin Museum, two traditional looms throw threads to and fro like dancing silkworms. Several youngsters crowd around the looms to watch their silver-haired master, Guo Jun, demonstrate how to weave Yunjin, a brocading style unique to Nanjing, capital of eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. Guo is a national-level inheritor of Nanjing Yunjin. Under his instruction, the next generation of inheritors is endeavoring to revive the once-renowned textile.

 

Nanjing Yunjin features exquisite patterns.
 

Historic Glory

Yunjin, literally “cloud brocade,” refers to a stunning brocade of gold, silver, and silk fabric mingling with feathers and furs. It represents the highest level of ancient Chinese textile techniques. Nanjing Yunjin reached its zenith during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, when the fabric was recognized as acceptable for special tributes to royal families. Rulers even set up an official bureau in Nanjing to oversee the brocade’s production and supply. However, along with the collapse of China’s last feudal dynasty in 1911, the fine silk lost its biggest patrons ¨C imperial households. Its air of imperial dignity did not meet the tastes of ordinary consumers, and its laborious hand-made production made Yunjin less competitive in the market than machine-made fabrics. The brocade began disappearing with each passing day.

Historically, Yunjin testified to its wearers’ social status and embodied Chinese aesthetic philosophy. Ancient officials wore Yunjin garments of various patterns to signify their ranks, and the patterns also varied according to the occasions. Guo has been committed to Yunjin production and research for four decades. He also teaches his students elements of traditional Chinese culture so that they can understand the significance of each pattern. “Rare fabrics are just the flesh of Yunjin, and its soul is the patterns,” Guo declares. “Without those symbolic patterns, any innovation is baseless.”

Guo admits that he has no idea how Yunjin will develop in the future. He only hopes that his studio will cultivate several successful students to inherit the craft and bring the brocade to modern aesthetic tendencies. He advocates Yunjin entering the art collection market. “Only if it wins recognition from art collectors will Yunjin retain its dignified aura.”

 

 

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