Silk was the most coveted textile in the planet. From Rome to China, great empires sought for this prized cloth. Leizu was said to be the first producer.

Leizu (嫘祖), also known as Xi Lingshi (西陵氏), was a legendary Chinese empress and wife of the Yellow Emperor. According to tradition, she discovered sericulture, the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk. She was said to invent the silk loom in the 27th century BC.

Leizu discovered silkworms while having an afternoon tea, and a cocoon fell in her tea. It slowly unraveled and she was enchanted by it.

According to one account, a silkworm cocoon fell into her tea, and the heat unwrapped the silk until it stretched across her entire garden. When the silk ran out, she saw a small cocoon and realized that this cocoon was the source of the silk. Another version says that she found silkworms eating the mulberry leaves and spinning cocoons. She collected some cocoons, then sat down to have some tea. While she was sipping a cup, she dropped a cocoon into the steaming water. A fine thread started to separate itself from the silkworm cocoon. Leizu found that she could unwind this soft and lovely thread around her finger.

She persuaded her husband to give her a grove of mulberry trees, where she could domesticate the worms that made these cocoons. She is attributed with inventing the silk reel, which joins fine filaments into a thread strong enough for weaving. She is also credited with inventing the first silk loom. It is not known how much, if any, of this story is true, but historians do know that China was the first civilization to use silk. Leizu shared her discoveries with others, and the knowledge became widespread in China.

According to folk story, the discovery of silk took place along the imperial palace of the Yellow Emperor. Along the imperial garden, many plants, flowers, and trees grew and gave color to the palace. The garden was a space of tranquility and prosperity, reflecting that of China. Among the trees that contribute to the beauty of the garden were mulberry trees. However, the trees started to lose its leaves quickly. The Empress Leizu took also noticed to the damages on the mulberry trees. She was alarmed and began to investigate.
After observing and close inspection of the trees, he noticed that small cocoons made by small worms were present on the trees. Thinking that it was the culprit, she picked and collected the cocoons.
After a while, she became exhausted after collecting a lot of cocoons. She decided to take a rest and a cup of hot tea in the garden. She sat down and placed her cocoons right beside her tea. After resting and sipping some of her tea, she accidentally hit her mound of cocoons and one cocoon fell to her tea. She look at her tea and tried to take out the cocoon. However, the cocoon became loosen and turned into treads. She experimented the tread and found out that it was soft and strong. She then built a loom that would transform the threads into a cloth. After a cloth was produced, she further discovered the beauty, the comfort, and the softness of silk.
Because of her discovery, she ordered the planting of a forest of mulberry trees to feed silk worms that would produce the silk. She began a sericulture and taught other women to make silk, to make the cloth, and later on, to make embroidery out of the silk cloth.
Because of her finding of silk and starting the coveted silk industry, Empress Leizu was called the Goddess of Silk. Ever since, women were the only in charge of producing magnificent silk cloths. These women would lead the monopoly of China in silk.

Leizu had a son named Changyi with the Yellow Emperor, and he was the father of Emperor Zhuanxu. Zhuanxu’s uncles and his father, the sons of Huangdi, were bypassed and Zhuanxu was selected as heir to Huangdi.

Staff editor


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