Few products are as synonymous with China as silk. And for a time, no name was as synonymous with quality silk as Jili. In 1851, when the first World Expo, then called the Great Exhibition, was held in London, Jili silk was displayed by a Chinese businessman. It won gold and silver prizes handed out by Queen Victoria. The silk was later presented to her as a birthday gift.
This year, the World Expo is being held 80 miles northeast of here, in Shanghai, but Jili silk is not up for any awards.
The industry here has proved far less resilient than its product. Like many rural residents across China, the young people in this patch of Zhejiang Province have flocked to cities to look for jobs. Only their parents remain to carry on the famed tradition of sericulture, or silk farming. They live in about 50 homes clustered around a central pond where wooden skiffs bob. Groves of mulberry trees ring the outskirts.
Every home once had hand tools that the residents used to spin silk thread. In the Qing Dynasty, founded in the 17th century, Jili silk was used to fashion the clothing of the imperial court in Beijing and of the emperor himself. Now, only a single decaying factory in the area still processes silk, and the villagers raise silkworms only twice a year, a sharp drop from five times a year in the 1980s.