(Ngày đăng: 29/08/2011   Lượt xem: 819)



During feudal times silk was considered an extreme luxury, on par with rhinoceros horn, ivory and precious handworks. Associated with nobility, this cloth adorned kings, queens and mandarins. Vietnam's various dynasties developed strict rules governing the color, ornamentation, style and fabric of clothes worn by aristocrats. A Le Dynasty document from1720 states that "Prices must use bronze color Chinese silk gauze in Spring and Summer, and thick Chinese silk in satin of the same color in Autumn and Winter ... Mandarins of the fourth rank and lower shall use only locally-made fabrics..."

The clothes worn by Vietnam's nobles featured the dame royal symbols-dragon, phoenixes, tortoises and cranes-that adorned the robes of Chinese aristocrats. Yet the garments themselves were constructed differently, incorporating elements of traditional Vietnamese design. Vietnam's Nguyen emperors (1802-1945), for example, wore high-necked long con (grand audience) and long chan(formal military gowns, similar to the traditional Vietnamese ao dai tunics that are popular today. Golden hues were reserved for the emperor, as were five-clawed dragons - both symbols of imperial rule.

Vietnam's best silk came from the province Ha Tay, which lies to the south-west of Hanoi in the Red River Delta. Silk from this area is often called "Ha Dong silk", a reference to the provincial capital of Ha Dong. The art of silk weaving is said to have begun in Ha Tay as long as 2,000 years ago. Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, two sisters from Ha Tay who led a heroic and ultimately doomed resistance against Chinese rule in the first century A.D., are said to have been silk weavers.


Perhaps the most romantic tale of all concerns Queen Y Lan, who lived in the 11th century A.D. Born into a poor family of silk weavers, Y Lan was picking mulberry leaves when King Ly Thanh Tong rode through the village. Awestruck by the young woman's beauty, the king proposed marriage. Twice, while her husband was away, Y Lan ruled the country. And despite her royal duties she continued to weave, becoming a patron saint for the country's silk weavers.

Between the 16th 18th centuries, Ha Tay's silk industry flourished. Many villages still bear the name La - the Chinese word for 'silk'. The most famous villages of all were Tring Tiet and Van Phuc, both of which still produce silk to this day.

Records show that Trinh Tiet village - originally named Boi Lang - was already known for its fine silk in the sixth century A.D. Villagers credit a man named Nguyen Duc Minh and his wife Tran Thi Thanh for introducing the craft to Boi Lang. Shortly after the couple's first child was born, Mr. Minh passed away. His wife never remarried, devoting all her energy to making silk. She taught her trade secrets to the other villagers and, in gratitude, they renamed the village Tring Tiet, which means 'faithfulness and virginity'.

Van Phuc village claims as its founder the Vietnamese wife of a Chinese mandarin, a woman later known as 'Her Highness'. This noblewoman, it is said, taught the men to plant mulberry and the women to weave silk. When she died, at noon on the 25th day of the 11th lunar month, the sky grew dark. The next morning, the villagers awoke to discover a pink silk scarf draped across a sacred tree in the centre of the village. Thereafter, they built a temple in the lady's honor, worshipping her Highness as the founder of their craft.

23.jpgThe weavers of Ha Tay supplied their precious cloth to various dynasties. They wove the golden robes of emperors and adorned mandarins' garments which the tho (longevity) symbols. Under the Nguyen Dynasty, Ha Tay's silk villages were required to 'respectfully offer' a yearly quota of top quality silk to the court in Hue. Weavers worked for three to eight months to produce a single royal cloth, receiving no payment besides an exemption from some corvee labor and, if the cloth was accepted, a silver or gold medal.

Today, residents of traditional silk villages like La Ca, Trieu Khuc and Van Phuc are still producing silk, although both the techniques and the quality of their wares have changed. In Van Phuc, which lies just 12km southeast of Hanoi, roaming generators and clanking mechanized looms have replaced the slow creak of handlooms, standing twice as high as a man, these semi-industrial looms cost from VN7 to 10 million a piece, and investment Van Phuc's villagers are eager to make.

While these noisy machines have clearly changed life in Van Phuc, few of the villagers are complaining. Indeed, silk-making, which seemed set to die out in the 1980s, is enjoying a revival. About 70 percent of the silk sold in Vietnam is domestically made and, as the silk shops that line Hanoi's Hang Gai Street reveal, demand is high. Tourists still account for much of the market but, as local consumers have more disposable income, they're rediscovering this natural fiber. Moreover, some weavers are reviving traditional techniques to turn out high-grade cloth. Twenty percent of the silk exported by Vietnam in 2000 was woven by hand.

The days when Vietnam's silk was reserved for nobility are long gone. What hasn�t changed is the sense of romance and luxury imparted by this luminous cloth. With 2000 years of history behind them, the silk weavers of Ha Tay are still busy, weaving dreams.

Getting there

To reach Van Phuc village, travel south west out of Ha Noi on Nguyen Trai Street until you reach the border of Ha Tay province. Then turn right and dive for about 3km. The village lies to the left, some 12 km from central Hanoi.



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