kesi, as praised by ming dynasty’s wu kuan, is a kind of textile with no similarity to ramie, crêpe or silk, but likely could be seen ripples on it under the moonlight. it is endowed with the reputation of "king of textile", even brocade in the weaving machine mortifying women from qin area and embroidery of tang dynasty seem to be pale when compared with it. kesi uses raw silk as the warp and colored cooked silk as the weft, with the technique of "maintaining the warp and breaking the weft". patterns will be first painted on the exterior of the warp with ink, while the weft breaks the continuity of the entire surface with different patterns and colors. several small shuttles are adopted to dig out and weave the plain cloth afterwards.
the earliest techinique of kesi was found on woolen fabrics unearthed in xinjiang from han dynasty. later, tang dynasty witnessed the first appearance of kesi fabrics, which most were narrow band ornaments for daily use. in the song dynasty, kesi was ingeniously combined with the arts of paintings and calligraphy, gradually transitioned from practical goods to fine art for appreciation, reaching its heyday. in the ming and qing courts, practical kesi products were mainly enjoyed by royal families, while artistic kesi expanding its subjects and yield, gradually forming a production and marketing center with suzhou as the leader. after the liberation in 1949, suzhou craftsmanship revitalized under the policy of "thriving for all and innovating from the past". kesi was also flourished due to a batch of young trainees, among whom wang jinshan was the top.
influenced by suzhou’s rich cultural atmosphere, wang jinshan’s enthusiasm for arts and crafts began at a young age. in the 1950s, he started to work in suzhou embroidery cooperative, becoming a student of master shen jinshui to research theories and practice skills, which equipped him with a good grasp of kesi art of song, yuan, ming and qing dynasties. kesi, made of thousands of silk threads, is an arduous form of art that is easy to learn but remotely close to perfection without proficient skills and highbrow tastes. however, after decades of hard-working, wang jinshan not only made it but also developed unique understandings. he invented various kesi techniques and categories, having enriched its artistic language and cultural notion, which greatly influenced the development of chinese kesi craftsmanship.
through each shuttle with threads one by one, kesi is gradually woven, which is a challenge to the state of mind. who could weave the beautiful and elegant kesi like a bladesmith spending a decade sharpening just one sword? the answer lies in talented national craftsmen. never forgetting why he started, wang jinshan employed shuttles as the pen to paint with silk threads. he quietly wove the beauty in flying times and never regretted in his life only because of what he held dear deep inside.
director of suzhou museum