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Silk from the Land of Han and cherishing beautiful words

Posted on : 18-05-2017 | By : Cindy | In : Uncategorized



In my latest novel the main character, Leah, imports exquisite silk from the land of the Han. The Han dynasty spanned four hundred years from 206BC – 220AD and actively traded with the Roman empire along the so-called Silk Road. So on my recent visit to China I was excited to see the ancient Shu style of embossed silk (above) that most likely traveled along the Silk Road, and to visit the Three Gorges Museum to see artifacts from the time of the Han.


This amazing rhinoceros shaped copper belt hook inlaid with jade caught my eye. Imagine how big you would have to be to wear such a solid thing at your waist! I can imagine it being carried by horse and camel across the treacherous mountains and vast deserts of the Silk Road, being traded for dates, pomegranates, spices or glass and finally ending up resting on the ample girth of a Roman general or senator.


The language used in the museum displays was fascinating, displaying a fluidity in use of words that made me at times laugh and at other times sigh with delight. Some of the students in my writing workshops used language in the same loosely poetic way. I loved it!


For centuries the Chinese have valued the written word. So much so that in Chengdu I found an ancient ‘burning tower’ from the Qing dynasty. The inscription read: ‘In ancient times, people cherished every word greatly and all papers with words or drawings shall be burnt in the tower together to show respect.’


Finally, as we were about to board our flight I found, in the tiny snack shop, Sun Zi’s ‘The Art of War’ printed on silk pages and written in ancient Chinese with English translation! Although written 2500 years ago, it is still today studied throughout the world by both military and business students. My son will be reading it for the wisdom of strategy and leadership while I will be marveling at the ancient words, the beautiful Chinese characters and running my fingers over the silken pages.

art of war


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Comments (3)

Hi Cindy, how fascinating – and wonderful to do such ‘in the setting’ research. China has such a rich culture and history and the links in the ancient world were much wider than we often realise. I know Chinese artefacts were found on archaeological digs of Greater Zimbabwe (a 12-13th century) which showed that two-way trade routes extended from China to central Africa. Must say though, burning is not my understanding of honouring words and books – was this an attempt to take the words with them into the after-life?

It reminded me of the Israelites in the Bible who offered the best/most precious of their livestock, produce etc as a burnt offering to God. I think paper and writing was so precious, it made a worthy sacrifice.

What a fascinating trip that must have been, Cindy. I loved that museum display with the unconstrained characters :) It’s amazing to think that words are valued so highly in some cultures. Thanks for sharing.

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