Culture Article #18: For the Joy of Sharing

A Peep Into China – Episode 3

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 96, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi


Introduction by Venkat
In this China episode, the third and penultimate one, Mr. Sivasubramanian describes the visits to various factories and the Great Wall of China. As some readers commented for the previous episodes, the writing is so absorbing and smooth, one feels as if on the tour along with him. The sights depicted are rich in information and imagery. Looking forward to the final episode that completes the ‘peep’ into China! This is his 11th article contribution to Adaptive Instruction. The previous ones are linked at the bottom. His continued engagement is inspiring and joyful to experience.

A Peep Into China – Episode 3

Silk Factory

We all know that China is traditionally known for its silk. From as far as my memory goes, Chinese traders used to visit individual homes in the far corner of Coimbatore, with bundles of silk fabrics. I do not remember how they conversed, but they did sell and we did buy. So we were delighted to be taken to a silk factory. We were shown how the silk worms wind themselves with silk fibers, and how the fiber ball is taken out of the worm. From a cocoon, a single thread as long as 1200 meters could be taken out; 4-5 strands of this thread is wound together to make one single silk yarn. Some of the cocoons have double insects which are taken out by hand and the ball with silk thread is stretched to as wide as a meter on both sides. They are placed layer over layer of the fiber to make it thick. They are made into quilts which they say is warm in winter and cool in summer. They managed to sell two quilts to us, and compressed them into thin pillows to be carried by air. Incidentally, the worm is not thrown away but taken as food! The Chinese say it is good protein! We were then taken to a large hall where models sported Chinese silk and cat-walked on a podium. In the show-cum-sales room were various types of garments on display. They looked good but were highly priced. We did try to buy some silk garment, but found the price didn’t suit our pocket. A silk tie, for example, cost around Rs.1,000/-.


Another Pearl Factory

On the way back, we were taken to a Pearl Factory. We had visited a Pearl Factory in Shanghai, but wanted to see this place as well. Here, as I told you, were pearls harvested from fresh water lakes. We spent about an hour looking at various ornaments made of pearls. Here also, the salesgirls managed to sell a few items to my wife and daughter. Both were gifted some loose pearls too.


Kung-fu Show

The guide was particular that we visited a Kung-fu show. This was not included in our tour package and we had to pay for the tickets. Kung-fu and Tai Chi (a branch of Kung-fu) are practiced extensively in China. Like the circus, the Kung Fu show is also a great attraction to the tourists. They spun a story behind the show to make it more interesting. A mother wanted her little boy to join the Kung-fu School and learn all the tricks. The boy was not willing, but the mother forced him to join. He learns a few tricks, but midway goes astray and loses his abilities. But the Guru persuaded him to continue practicing and ultimately he masters the art and becomes great. In the process, they show fights with sticks and swords. The boy lies on the tip of a knife at one point and towards the end his body becomes steel and is able to bear heavy blows from steel machetes. Almost towards the end the boy (now he has become a young man) takes blows from 3 steel machetes on his head at one go! The machetes all broke into pieces. They exhibited the pieces outside in the foyer for the visitors to view.


Jade Factory

Carved jade objects have been produced in China from as far back as 3000–2000 BC. The Chinese have historically regarded carved jade objects as intrinsically valuable, and they metaphorically equate jade with human virtues because of its hardness, durability, and beauty. The tour gave us an opportunity to visit a jade factory. The objects were exquisitely carved and all objects seemed worthy of having in our drawing rooms. But the prices were so high that we couldn’t buy even a small souvenir.



The Great Wall

After visiting the jade factory early in the morning, we proceeded on a 50-km ride towards the Great Wall. The Great Wall of China, considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, runs east to west for more than 6500 kms. Meant to arrest invaders from Mongolia and other parts from crossing over to China, the wall runs along mountain ranges. The construction dates back to the 4th Century BC. In Beijing – or rather close to Beijing – one has to climb 1000s of steep steps to reach the top of the wall. It was difficult to climb all the way up, but some of the youngster in our group made it. In fact, my grandson got a medal for climbing up all the way. There are resting places on the way. I climbed up to the third resting place, my son-in-law, the second, and my wife, the first. It was amazing that she reached the first leg bearing the pain in her leg. She could not have climbed beyond it though she was disappointed that she did not join the youngsters to the top – that was her spirit! But while resting at the first gate, several people appreciated her efforts and took photographs of her. We took a lot of pictures all the way. It was providence that we could see this great wonder, the only man-made structure visible from the moon.


Cloisonne Factory

On our way back, we visited a Cloisonné factory. (I do not know why they say factory when only a few craftsmen work primarily for the benefit of the tourists who throng to the show room). In China, cloisonné was widely produced during the Ming (1368–1644) and Ch’ing (1644–1911) dynasties. Cloisonné consists of soldering to a metal surface delicate metal strips bent to the outline of a design and filling the resulting cellular spaces, called cloisonnés (French: “partitions,” or “compartments”), with vitreous enamel paste. The object then is fired, ground smooth, and polished. Sometimes metal wire is used in place of the usual gold, brass, silver, or copper strips. It looked to be a very fine art practiced in China. We saw how the metal strips are cut and pasted on the boards. It was a very delicate handwork.

To be continued…

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 96, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi


Mr. Sivasubramanian hails from Coimbatore. He has been living in Delhi throughout life. He was employed with the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and retired as Director in 1986.


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