Feb 21, 2019
One, demand. As southern operas, Kunqu in particular, came into being in Suzhou, and because Suzhou became the national theatrical and cultural center after the Southern Song Dynasty made its capital in Lin’an (Hangzhou) in the 12th century, the numerous opera troupes locally meant a large demand for stage costumes. In response, the theatrical costumier trade emerged and flourished there.
Two, established sericulture and handicraft industry. Stage costumes were mostly made of silk and Suzhou was China’s key silk producer since the 15th century. Furthermore, embroidery was indispensable for showing various patterns in the costumes and Suzhou embroidery is one of the best in China. These two advantages gave Suzhou an unassailable position.
Three, history and culture. Unlike everyday garments and articles, the fashioning of stage costumes requires more than just proficient workmanship: Production must embody mastery of craft and be steeped in cultural and artistic sensibility. The portrayal of a stage character and the creation of one costume—from dragon, phoenix and birds motifs to fish, insects and flowers; from landscape and pavilions to geometric forms—the plan, design and actual production are all forms of artistic expression. Even more a reflection of regional culture are the appropriate matching and toning of colors, simple elegance and beautiful styles. Such things are the legacy of a 2,500-year-old history, a legacy left by countless generations of ingenious and skillful artisans deploying traditional crafts. It was their knowhow that laid the foundations for Suzhou’s stage costumes and properties industry.
About the Column
Suzhou-Silk City is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. Suzhou, though associated with classical gardens, is even more the city of silk. The peaks and troughs experienced in Suzhou’s silk making and embroidery worlds are an important aspect of the enduring brilliance of China’s silk art.