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The history of the silkworm, which is also the story of silk, goes back to ancient times in China. Some of the stories have been handed down through the generations and are probably based party on fact and partly on legend and myth. The tale which persists is that about 2,640 B.C. a Chinese empress, Si-Ling-Chi, was watching the glistening amber cocoons that little worms were spinning in the mulberry trees in the palace gardens. She unwound one of the threads on a cocoon and found that it was one, very long strand of shiny material. Fascinated, she pulled strands from several cocoons through her ring to form a thicker thread. Eventually, with the help of her ladies of the court, she spun the threads into a beautiful piece of cloth to make a robe for the emperor, Huang-Ti. This magnificent material, silk, became known at the "cloth of kings".

For thousand of years on the royal family of China had silk. The Chinese kept the secret of how silk was made for 2500 years. The material was sold to the rulers of the West, but the source of the shiny thread that made the material was not revealed. The penalty in China for telling that the silk came from the cocoons of the little silkworms was death! Some very strange ideas were formulated as to the origin of silk. Here are a few: Silk came from the colored petals of flowers in the Chinese desert, silk was made of wondrously soft soil, silk came from a spider-like animal that ate until it burst open and the silk threads were found inside its body, and silk came from the silky fuzz on special leaves. These ideas seem far-fetched today -- but in ancient times they were serious theories.

Legend has it that the Japanese carried off four Chinese maidens, who knew the secret of silk, along with mulberry shoots and silk moth eggs. Today Japan is the leading producer of silk! Another story is that a Chinese princess married an Indian prince. She carried silkworm eggs and mulberry shoots in her elaborate headdress and the secret of raising silkworms in her head, thus spreading the culture of silk to India. Finally, two poor monks told Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire (also called the Byzantine Empire) that they had learned the secret of silk. Justinian send them back to China to get some eggs and mulberry shoots for him. They returned many years later with the eggs and shoots hidden inside their hollowed-out walking sticks. The secret soon spread throughout Europe.

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