The art of sericulture and the fascination of Bombyx Mori, with a visit Jiangsu Fu'an Silk and Cocoon Co Ltd
One of the jewels in the crown of our trip was to be a visit to a sericulture plant and we learnt early in our planning with Jade, of Jiangsu Artall Cultural Industries, that the company owned a sericulture business near Haian, in the east of Jiangsu Province. It was a three hour drive from Nanjing, but Jade kindly organised transport and after an easy journey we arrived in the small town of Fu'anzhen in time for lunch at a little family fish restaurant. The meal was a real treat with fish soup and scorpion fish.
Afterwards we arrived at the Jiangsu Fuan Cocoon & Silk Co Ltd where we were ushered into a large reception room and met the director Mr Lu. After a conversation with him and Jade we saw a promotional film about the company before proceeding on a whistle stop tour, spread across 5 different sites in the area around Fu'anzhen. One of the things we really wanted to see was the silkworms themselves and we’d heard that the noise of them munching on mulberry leaves could make quite a racket, something that Stuart was looking forward to recording!
First we visited the main site which focused on the spinning and weaving. There were countless machines and with several of the manufacturing processes being undertaken, including silk extraction, sorting, spinning and reeling. Each area was very loud with its own sounds of industry which we documented as we walked around. Most of the mechanised jobs were done by women with manual jobs being shared by women and men. The looms were highly mechanised, modern and mostly rapier looms, some making fabric double the width of any we had seen before. Operators were responsible for working rows of looms working simultaneously rather than just one machine. The company were producing a range of cloth, some with traditional motifs and some with modern abstracted Chinese patterns, possibly for high-end furnishing fabrics.
The second site was between the villages where we saw fields of Mulberry trees in different stages of growth. With the climate in Hai'an, plants and trees can be at any stage of the four seasons. We saw one field lush and green and ready to pick whilst an adjacent one had yellowing leaves as it was going into autumn. All were grown in quite close rows and pollarded with a row of lime trees at the edge of the fields as a shelter belt.
Nearby were the silk worm breeding sheds. Mr Lu had explained that the choice of species of silkworm and trees was very scientific having been highly developed over a long time. So when we saw the open shed with silk worms on tiered trestles covered with woven bamboo it seem quite low tech. It was fascinating to behold and you could hear the silkworms eating the mulberry leaves and see them at different stages of becoming pupae, on their way to developing cocoons. The process was all done by hand, no mechanisation in sight.
As we drove to the next site it was great to see the area's rural ways of life with many people working the fields and going about their daily business. We arrived at a large warehouse with huge piles of baskets and sacks of cocoons where they were being dried and stored. Once dried they were then ready for the process of extracting the silk from the cocoon.
We really appreciated the visit, it was an enlightening experience for our project and our understanding of sericulture and silk production.