Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ji-Huan He: Sericulture is Chinese

This is an update to Ji-Huan He in sericulture archeological dispute. Shrink directs our attention to Philip Ball, Material witness: Trouble on the silk road, Nature Materials, Vol. 10, No. 4 (2011). Only the following two paragraphs are available online:


No one really knows how China (the Middle Kingdom, Zhongguo) came to be so-called in the West, although there is no shortage of theories: perhaps it is from Qin, the first dynasty of Imperial China, or maybe from Cin, the Persian word for the region. But Ji-Huan He of the Modern Textile Institute in Shanghai argues for another derivation: beginning with si, the Chinese word for silk, we get 'Sino', then 'Cina' and finally 'China'.

That etymology is significant because, for He, it links China's national identity with its claim to be the cradle of sericulture, the production of silk. That of course is the traditional picture; after all, the Silk Road commences at the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an. The science and technology of silk manufacture is still afforded dedicated research institutes in China, where surely more is known about this ancient craft than anywhere else in the world. So it is not surprising that a recent suggestion by Irene Good of the Peabody Museum at Harvard and her colleagues that silk production might have begun independently in the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (now in east Pakistan) has been greeted with some dismay in China. Good and colleagues identified the Harappan silks in an archaeological project conducted in 1999–2000 through a US–Pakistan collaboration.


So we see that Ji-Huan He s not only an entomologist but also an etymologist.

He and his associates surely are among the world's foremost experts on natural fibers. They have explained the properties of polar bear hair, goose-down, and wool using such odd tools as El Naschie's E-infinity theory and differential equations of fractional order, but so far they have not applied their quirky methods to silk.


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2 comments:

  1. As the discussion on the previous El Naschie Watch post on this noted, He was likely blowing hot air (as usual). Ball simply summarized the He's comment and the authors' replies in this news pieces. Here is the full text:




    No one really knows how China (the Middle Kingdom, Zhongguo) came to be so-called in the West, although there is no shortage of theories: perhaps it is from Qin, the first dynasty of Imperial China, or maybe from Cin, the Persian word for the region. But Ji-Huan He of the Modern Textile Institute in Shanghai argues for another derivation: beginning with si, the Chinese word for silk, we get 'Sino', then 'Cina' and finally 'China'1.


    That etymology is significant because, for He, it links China's national identity with its claim to be the cradle of sericulture, the production of silk. That of course is the traditional picture; after all, the Silk Road commences at the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an. The science and technology of silk manufacture is still afforded dedicated research institutes in China, where surely more is known about this ancient craft than anywhere else in the world. So it is not surprising that a recent suggestion by Irene Good of the Peabody Museum at Harvard and her colleagues that silk production might have begun independently in the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (now in east Pakistan) has been greeted with some dismay in China. Good and colleagues identified the Harappan silks in an archaeological project conducted in 1999–2000 through a US–Pakistan collaboration2.

    The claim is challenged by He, who says that the Harappan silk fragments dated by Good et al. to the mid-third-millennium BC far postdate evidence for Chinese sericulture from around 5000 BC1. But that evidence is partly circumstantial: it comes from engraved drawings on ivory that have been interpreted, but not conclusively, as silkworms. Some samples of silk have been found in the Yangtse delta in Zhejiang province in association with a bamboo basket dated to 3500–2700 BC, but Good et al.3 say that the presence, at the same site, of items such as peanuts that must stem from a much later period raise questions about the silk's age. Silk from Qingtai in Henan province is associated with cultural artefacts from 4000–3500 BC, but the textile itself lacks a radiocarbon date. So Good and colleagues argue that there are no clear examples of Chinese silk before around 2500 BC.

    The debate doesn't just rest with the archaeological dating. Good et al. also pointed out that, on the basis of microscopic morphology of the threads, their samples of early Harappan textiles were made from the silk of wild silkmoths indigenous to southeast Asia, not the domesticated silkworm Bombyx mori used in China1. They stress that nothing in their findings threatens the notion that the domestication of silkworms first happened solely in China. Domesticated silk does not start to appear outside China until around two millennia ago.

    It's unlikely that this is the end of the story. Ji-Huan He may of course be right that sericulture had a unique origin in China. But because definitive proof of that is likely to be very hard to come by, it seems risky to develop too much emotional attachment to the idea.

    References
    1. He, J.-H. Archaeometry doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.2010.00550.x (2010).
    2. Good, I. L., Kenoyer, J. M. & Meadows, R. H. Archaeometry 51, 475–466 (2009).
    3. Good, I. L., Kenoyer, J. M. & Meadows, R. H. Archaeometry (in the press).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent. Thanks for the full text!

    ReplyDelete