Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


The cloud brocade, yunjin, is a unique production of Nanjing. The royal court had monopolized this kind of textile during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The incredibly rich textures and fantastic designs of the so-called cloud brocade fascinate people even today. The textiles studied in this paper are from the collections of the Research Institute of Yunjin at Nanjing. This research institute has been working on preservation and excellence for the cloud brocade in its classical style and technique.

Yunjin is the only kind of textile of China that cannot be replaced by modern weaving machines; in present-day China, there are less than 50 crafts workers that are experts in this skill. During the Kangxi and Yongzheng Emperors’ reigns of the middle Qing Dynasty, while yunjin production reached its high peak, there were 30,000 weaving machines in Nanjing and about 300,000 people in Nanjing district depended on it for their livelihood.

This was also the period when the salt industry of southern China provided 50 percent of the annual imperial revenues through its center in Yangzhou. Yangzhou is not far from Nanjing but is on the north of the Yangtze River. Today, it is a one and a half hour ride to reach one town from the other, but only a few years ago, there was no such easy way connecting these two cities, and the Yangtze separated them into two different worlds. So how was the Cloud Brocade of Nanjing connected to the salt of Yangzhou?

This study investigates the connections between the two cities through two of the richest industries of imperial China with a view toward understanding the relationships between the social and cultural worlds of the royal officials, salt merchants, and silk trade managers of the middle Qing dynasty.