A Brief History of Chinese Embroidery 3. Taking Form—the Spring and Autumn Period, the Warring States Period, the Qin and the Han Periods (770 BC–220 AD)

B Embroidery of Phoen

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (770–221 BC), embroidery was brought about by single chain stitch needlework. The most representative was a batch of embroidery in the middle and late stage of the Warring States Period (475–221BC) that was unearthed from Chu State Tombs of Jiangling County, Hubei Province. Though buried underground for over 2,000 years, they still appear gorgeous with exquisite patterns and vivid styles. They are well preserved in big numbers featured by delicate and mature skills of embroidery. There are mostly over ten kinds of colors, i.e. brown, reddish brown, dark brown, eosin, vermilion, orange-red, golden yellow, earthen yellow, yellowish-green, dark green, blue, and grey, etc. Each pattern is combined with three to five kinds of colors that are mainly in warm hues in sharp contrast. Patterns are chiefly marked by dragons, phoenixes, tigers, and flowers. These different patterns look beautiful, neat, unrestrained, vivid, and regularly laid out with changes in symmetrical distribution and interaction in smoothness.

B Embroidery of Phoen
B Embroidery of Phoenix Patterns Warring States Period The most representative embroidery in ancient China was none other than chain stitch between the Warring States Period and the Han Dynasty. Despite its mono-needlework and unchanged craftsmanship, its needlework was neat and unrestrained, its patterns were spirited and regularly laid out with changes in symmetric distribution and interaction amidst smoothness. Such features can be found in many embroidered articles unearthed in the same period. Phoenix was regarded as a mythological bird in remote antiquity in China. Therefore, it was frequently seen on embroidered patterns at that time. Its flowing posture is varied, full of rhythm as well as miraculous and illusive appeal, revealing the appeal of aesthetics and the style of romanticism of the culture of the Chu state in the Warring States Period. For instance, the phoenix in this embroidered article is marked by a high crown, expansive wings, lowering head at one end of the wing, and slightly curved feet, seemingly flying in the air or coming back from the fairyland in romantic conception and gorgeous colors. The entire article was produced with chain stitch, meticulous, and proficient needlework without any trace of stiffness, showing superb embroidery needlework of folk artists more than 2,000 years ago.


The development of embroidery benefited from the unification of different states in China in the Qin Period and the Han Period (221 BC–220 AD) when the system of conferment was replaced by the system of centralism. Economic and cultural exchanges and integration became increasingly extensive. Social and agricultural production as well as handicraft production became increasingly prosperous. The textile industry developed rapidly, leading to the emergence of professional embroiderers. Apart from silk embroidery, embroidery on woolen products is also often seen among embroidered articles unearthed in north-west China. Motifs of embroidered patterns became richer. In addition to mature chain stitch, short running stitch, blanket stitch and bead work also began to appear. They were new embroidery technique used to try to combine patterns. The development of mineral dyestuff and application of plant dyestuff further expanded the color spectrum of threads for embroidery.


Embroidery is of practical use, but it is not only confined to the garment since it has begun to be associated with daily decorative articles, such as sachets, gloves, pillow-towels, needle-thread containers, parcels with lace trimmings, brocade robes, knee-pads, suspenders, face powder bags, mirror bags, vamps, ribbons, and embroidered trousers, etc. As an important turning point in the history of embroidery, it laid the foundation for the enhancement of the artistry of embroidery in the following generations. What deserves to be stressed is that representative patterns of embroidery appeared in the Qin Period and the Han Period, i.e. embroidery with swallow motif and embroidery with auspicious cloud motif. As terms of embroidery, the two patterns were seen in literature at that time, showing that the popularity and professionalism of embroidery were quite well-grounded.