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Hemp Weaving

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Cannabis Hemp probably evolved in northern China, and was the first fiber plant to be cultivated there at the dawn of human society. Cotton from India and Mediterranean flax were not introduced until thousands of years later. Silk fabric was a luxury of the wealthy. The peasants wore hemp clothing. Ma (hemp) and mulberry were such important crops that the phrase "land of mulberry and hemp" was a synonym for cultivated fields and the land of China.

An abundance of archaeological evidence proves the continuous cultivation of hemp from prehistoric times. A 12,000 years old Neolithic site unearthed at Yuan-shan (Taiwan) included coarse, sandy pottery with hempen cord marks covering the surface, and an incised, rod-shaped stone beater used to pound hemp. Among the items excavated from a late Neolithic site (ca. 4000 BC) in Zhejiang province, several textile articles were found made of hemp and silk. The Kung-shan culture of about 4000 years ago also left samples of hemp cloth. The agricultural tribes of the Lianghzu culture (3300 BC-2300 BC) left proof that they consumed hemp in two pottery vessels on the floor of a house in Lin-chia. Some carbonized fruits of cannabis were found, indicating that the resinous bracts were burnt and the seeds left behind. Remains of hemp have been found at sites of the Ch'i-chia, a culture of advanced farmers who also raised livestock in eastern Kansu. Excavations of four burial pits of the Microlithic Culture of Inner Mongolia recovered remains of objects of leather, silk, and hemp. (1-4)

One of the most ancient books, Shu Chingi (dated ca. 2300 BC) states that the land in Shantung province is "whitish and rich... with silk, hemp, lead, pine trees and strange stones..." Its people paid tribute to their rulers with hemp. The warlords' armies were dressed in armor sewn with hemp cord, and their bows were strung with hemp strings that were far superior to the bamboo fiber they replaced. Coats, bucklers and helmets were made of hemp prepared with vinegar to strengthen it. Hemp was grown around every lord's castle to provide for their military needs. (7)

The Shang culture (1400-1100 BC) on the flood plain of the Huangho River was a self-sufficient agricultural economy that developed a hemp-weaving industry. Excavation of the Shang site at Taixi (Hebei province) produced fragments of burnt hempen fabric. Analysis revealed that the Shang people had developed better methods of preparing the fiber by soaking it in ponds.

A number of clay and stone spinning whorls were found intact at the Taixi Shang site. A spindle was inserted through a center hole and the implement was held in the left hand and spun while fiber was fed onto it with the right hand. The technology was so advanced that several types of whorls were used to make different hempen fabrics. A roll of hemp cloth in 13 pieces also was recovered. Tombs of the Western Chou period (110-770 BC) at Yuntang village (Shaanxi) were found to contain a spindle whorl made from an earthenware shard, and a jar decorated with fine hemp fabric markings.

More than a thousand mortuary objects were recovered from a Chou tomb site at Hsin-Ts'un near An-Yang. The inventory included articles of hemp among those of gold, jade, marble, silk, lacquer and other valuable materials. The inner coffin was made of wooden planks reinforced with bands of hemp cloth that were fastened to the coffin with lacquer. A late Western Chou dynasty grave discovered in Shansi province contained bronze vessels, weapons, jade, pottery, and a tightly woven fragment of hemp cloth. Bronze objects protected with silk and hemp wrappings were found at other Chou cemetary sites.

Archaeologists discovered a tomb at Chengjiao (Hubei) containing charcoal and some decomposed fragments of a fabric mixture of silk and hemp laying on top of a layer of red cinnabar, revealing an awareness of alchemy. Chinese alchemists performed rituals to prepare for their experiments, especially with cinnabar. One such rite was a solemn dance titled "Method of Steaming Hemp according to Su Nu". The 6th century Taoist collection Wu Shang Pi Yao (Essentials of the Matchless Books) states that alchemists added hemp to their incense. A text by Ko Hung gives warning, that "Hemp seed oil spoils wine."

During the Eastern Chou period (770-481 BC), the territory of the Yangtze and Han rivers were developed, and an early historian noted that the people there had to "labor in wooden carts and tattered hempen cloths to bring the hills and forest under cultivation."

The oldest pharmacopia in existence, the Pen-Ts'ao Ching (ca. 100 BC) was compiled from ancient fragments attributed to the legendary Emperor Shen-Nung (ca. 2300 BC). The book mentions that "hemp grows along rivers and valleys at T'ai-shan, but it is now common everywhere." Mount T'ai (Shantung province) is one of the oldest locations where hemp was grown in historical times. The book also mentions ma-pho, a term that means a sudden change of mood, such as intoxication. At the same time the word can be explained as dehisence, the sudden blooming of male hemp. The ancient Chinese naturally discovered the medicinal and psychic properties of the resinous bracts, which they called ma-fen. Another find from the Eastern Chou dynasty (Shansi province) contained several hundred pieces of jade and stone "oath documents" with red inscriptions that mention ma with the character for "negative" attached to it. This suggests that the undignified psychoactive effect of the plant was well known to them. (8, 9)

Western Han tombs at Yinqueshan (Linyi) were found to contain pottery filled with hempseed and other grains. The well-preserved body of a Han woman, discovered in a tomb in Changsa (Hunan) was accompanied by more than a thousand funeral items, among them jars of hempseed.

The ancient Chinese farmers utilized their best land to grow food, and the rest was cultivated with hemp for its fiber, seed and medicine. Men harvested the crop, and during the winter the women wove the fiber into cloth.

In the Shih Ching (Book of Odes), a compilation of 305 songs composed between 1000-500 BC, hemp is mentioned 7 times. One poem states that to soak hemp to remove the glue is a woman's task. Another poem says, "The pond at the East Gate, can be used to soak the hemp." Four variations for ma are given in the first dictionary, Shuo-wen chieh-tzu, compiled by Hsu Shen in the Eastern Han period. The Chi-chiu-pien, a primer composed in the first century BC for teaching and writing, lists rice, millet and hemp in one sentence. Government records of the Han period show that a roll of rough to medium hemp cloth cost about 300-400 cash, and plain silk cost slightly more than medium hemp fabric. (10)

The invention of vegetable fiber paper emerged during the Han dynasty when people became frustrated with the bulk and weight of wooden and bamboo tablets and the expensive rarity of zhi (proto-paper). The dynastic history Hou-Han Shu attributes the invention of paper in 105 AD to Marquis Cai Lun, who was prefect of the masters of Techniques during the reign of Emperor He Di. Archaeologists, however, have recovered older specimens of hemp paper from the Western and Eastern Han periods in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Shaanxi, so it is apparent that Cai Lun actually supervised the art of papermaking by craftsmen, though he also worked to promote its use in the imperial bureaucracy. According to the Hou-Han Shu, "He submitted the process to the emperor in the first year of Yuan-Hsing and received praise for his ability. From this time, paper has been in use everywhere and is universally called 'the paper of Marquis Cai'". (11, 12)

The Hou-Han Shu relates the apocryphal story of Cai Lun's attempts to introduce true hemp paper in a memorial to the court. With the help of some friends, Cai Lun pretended to die and was buried alive. The coffin was fitted with a secret bamboo tube that allowed Cai Lun to breathe while he waited. His friends announced that if paper was burned, it would resurrect the dead man. The mourners were dubious but did as was suggested; then the coffin was exhumed. Cai Lun thanked the astounded witnesses for their faith in his miraculous paper, and its subsequent acceptance was thus assured. The Chinese customarily burn paper over graves during burial ceremonies. (13)

Perhaps the oldest specimens of paper extant, dating more than a century earlier than Cai Lun, were discovered in a tomb near Xian (Shensi). The pieces were found under three bronze mirrors that were wrapped in hemp cloth. The tomb is dated no later than the reign of Wu Di (Western Han Dynasty, 140-87 BC). Several archaeological finds support the literary evidence of the Hou-Han Shu. The excavation of a ruined watchtower in Tsakhortei unearthed a specimen of paper bearing writing contemporary with Cai Lun. Another piece from the Late Han period was found with a mummy in a tomb in Min-feng (Sinkiang). Other remarkable specimens were nailed in three layers with wooden strips on the side of an ox-cart. The samples are white and much thinner than earlier examples.

Other common papermaking materials in the Han period included paper mulberry and ramie. Rattan was introduced in the Chin period, but hemp remained the primary material for paper manufacture. After the T'ang period, however, the use of hemp in paper declined and was replaced by bamboo. Su I-Chien, author of Wen Fang Su Phu, the first treatise about paper, wrote that "hemp was used in Szechuan, bamboo in Chiangsu, mulberry bark in the north, rattan in Shan-chi, and seaweed by people of the south." Later periods also used jute and China grass. But hemp paper is pliable, tough, fine and waterproof, and these characteristics made it popular and preferred for use in official documents, books and calligraphy. The book Hsin Thang Shu says that the Chin dynasty court provided the scholars in the Academy of Assembled Worthies with 5000 sheets of hemp paper each month. Hemp paper made in I-Chou (Szechuan) was used for all the books in the imperial library in the Khai-Yuan period (713-742 AD) (Ref. 8)

According to the Li Chi (Record of Rites, ca. 150 BC), in ancient times people wore skins and feathers until sages invented hemp and silk fabric. The record states that hempseed was used by kings in a ritual diet during certain months. The Li Chi ordained that people mourning the death of a parent should wear hemp clothing. In the ancient Chinese cult of the dead, tradition requires a surviving son to put the father in a hempen sack and consume a portion of his flesh, but the practice changed and put the bag over the son instead, without cannibalism. Now it is customary for a mourning son to wear coarse hemp (ma-po) on his head. Other mourners must wear other kinds of cloth such as silk or muslin. (Ref. 14)

Source: Mercatia
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