Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


In China, Gengzhi Tu or the Pictures of Tilling and Weaving as a distinct and separate genre was inaugurated in 1145 by Lou Shou, an official in the Southern Song bureaucracy. In that year he gave a set of two scrolls of poems and paintings to Emperor Gaozong. One was on the topic of cultivating rice and the other on the weaving of silk fabric. These scrolls formed a suite. The imagery and poetry, consisting of a breakdown of the procedures of production in a step by step manner, must be understood in their official context. The circumstances of Emperor Gaozong's court at that time were rather dire. The year 1145 represents a mere eighteen years since Emperor Gaozong managed to create a semblance of a government in southern China. The Northern Song had fallen prey to invaders who swept down from Manchuria. Emperor Gaozong' s brother, Emperor Huizong, and other members of his family were taken captive in 1126. Emperor Gaozong fled south into exile in an attempt to continue the reign of the Zhao house, even if it were in a rump China.

In the years from 1127 to 1145, Emperor Gaozong had shakily consolidated his power. He initiated his Southern Song regime in the capital Linan in 1138, situated in modem Hangzhou. These years were troubled by high taxation and high inflation of food and commodities, including silk and rice. In addition, as thousands of people fled from the north to the lesser industrially developed south, the infrastructure was insufficient and a shortage of commodities fueled the rampant inflation. There were government policies to promote the development of sericulture to pay for the costs of the new government as well as to pay for peacekeeping tribute for the invaders. In view of such straightened economic conditions, Emperor Gaozong had a formidable task to present himself as the only valid alternative to the northern invaders, while he maneuvered to sustain claims to continue the Song lineage.