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The kind of silk textile famously known as cloud brocade, from Nanjing, developed during the Yuan dynasty of China (13th -14th century). Its production reached its peak during the Ming and middle Qing Dynasties (15th -18th century), and was monopolized by the royal court. The incredibly rich textures and fantastic designs fascinate people even today.
Throughout the 18th century, the successive officers in charge of cloud brocade production (members of the Cao family) were also responsible for the salt trade of Yangzhou. The salt trade was the most important industry controlled by royalty, providing almost 50% of the court’s annual income at the time.
This article will investigate how the salt industry of Yangzhou literarily sustained the silk industry of Nanjing. It will study the complex nature of these two industries, and their relationship to the intergraded cultural world of royal officials, literati, salt merchants and silk trade managers. In doing so, it will enhance our understanding of middle Qing Culture.