You are on page 1of 4

Once upon a time in the land far, far away there was a princess…

Lu ziin New Jersey had a unique way of incorporating ancient history in her
recent travel journals. Her words fascinated me. When she saw in Khotan,
Central Asia, that silk processing method was the same as what she had
known all her lifetime back home in Southern China, she wrote:
“Before Princess was sent to marry, all her belongings -- including the
clothes on her -- were thoroughly inspected. When finally arrived in
Khotan, she took off her headcloth, let loose her long hair, and
released all the silkworm eggs she had hidden in her hair. Princess
must have also brought mulberry seeds with her…. From that time on
silkworms from Zhong Yuan started to settle in the oasis.” (My
translation.)( May
19 &20, 2008 )
Princess in the story was from China. She was to marry Prince of Khotan,
whose kingdom was several thousand kilometers from “Zhong Yuan” (=
“central plain”; my translation), which was the region where the capital of
China was located. The time was about 2,000 years ago.
Imagine being ordered to permanently relocate in a strange land far, far
away from your home without seeing pics or videos of the place you are
going to live for the rest of your life beforehand! Imagine traveling for
months through the rough country without an air-conditioned vehicle or a
motor-bike, without a cellphone in your purse or any public phones on the
way, only to meet up with an almost total stranger who speaks another
mother tongue…
Romantic? I don’t think so!
I do not know if Princess had the opportunity to meet her future husband in
person before she was sent to marry him. Probably not! Was she given the
right to refuse at all? Maybe not, either, as it involved lots of political factors.
When did she master the language of her husband’s people? Only heaven
In the time when there were no roads Princess and her companions must
have spent many months crossing the wilderness and the vast desert. We
may never know whether she had cried, whether she had been injured, or
whether she had lost any travel companions along the way, but thank
heaven she arrived safely in the foreign land -- with silkworms that she had
smuggled from her country.
Khotan, or Hotian, is a very old city on an oasis bordering the southwest of
Taklamakhan, “one of the largest sandy deserts in the world” in Central Asia.
Lu zi mentioned in her journal that the desert was 520,000 square
kilometers without any highways. When the above story happened Buddhism
was flourishing in that oasis, in which there were many races living in and
passing through incessantly. It was only 1,000 years later that
Khotanembraced Islam. The territory is now populated almost entirely by
Uighur, a minority in northwestern China.
Here are pics of modern days Khotan, which was what Lu zi saw when she
was there not long ago:

According to Lu zi,
“The Prince of Khotan had told his messenger to request Princess to
bring silkworms so that she could always have silk attire even when
she was far away from Zhong Yuan.” (my translation)
Throughout history Khotan has long been known as “the first place out of
China to begin cultivating silk.”
Before the time of Princess, however, silk manufacturing had been controlled
exclusively by the Chinese authorities.
“Anyone who revealed the secrets or smuggled the silkworm eggs or
cocoons outside of China would be punished by death.”

Come to think of it, Princess had been very brave to have defied such rule!
Legends said with those silkworms and mulberry seeds she and her maids
successfully started and promoted silk manufacturing in Khotan. Thank
goodness it was very far from China!
Silk was later spread to many places in Central Asia and eventually to the
Roman Empire and Europe.
Lu zi quoted a well-known old poem written by Ma Zhiyuan(1260 – 1325), a
poet and playwright who lived in the era the fierce Mongols roamed China.
The poet, upon seeing the thinly polulated wilderness in Central Asia about
1,000 years after the days of Princess, wrote:

There is an excellent translation in Wikipedia:

"Autumn Thoughts"
A Withered vine, an ancient tree, crows at dusk
A Little bridge, a flowing stream, some huts
An old road, wind out of the west, an emaciated horse
A heart-broken man on the horizon at sunset.
The poet’s simple words strongly depicted the bleakness in the remote
country as seen through the eyes of travellersfrom the prosperous heartland
in China. In reality, ancient paths in the desert were not just lonely but also
full of unpredictable danger. Those who were dispatched away from home to
such territory must have been completely heartbroken fearing there was
little chance for them to return to their families safely within their life time.
Princess, however, did not leave much traces of her lamenting for the
impossibility of coming back to her beloved parents in China. Instead,
records showed that she had busily engaged herself and her people in
promoting silk manufacturing in her husband’s land. Her enthusiasm and
efforts eventually brought great changes to human history. These days silk is
still expensive but it is almost everywhere. Here we have another wonderful
example of the power of a displaced Chinese female.