Profile: Life-long bond with silk

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by Xinhua writers Zhang Zhongkai, Pan Ying and Su Chuanyi

URUMQI, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- After nearly 30 years, 68-year-old Arkinnisa Memetsali from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region could still speak some dialect of Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city nearly 4,000 km away from her hometown Hotan Prefecture.

Arkinnisa called Suzhou her second hometown due to a life-changing experience.

Born into a relatively rich family, Arkinnisa became fond of silk in her childhood, as her father was a silk trader and Hotan's Jiya Town is a renowned production center of Atlas silk.

Famous for its rich and bright colors and distinctive changing zigzag patterns, Atlas silk has been used by Uygur women for clothing and interior design for centuries.

As folklore goes, during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) a princess who came to the region for marriage brought a silkworm cocoon with her. Local residents have since begun to produce silkworms and weave silk.

Arkinnisa became a worker at a local silk plant in 1971. As exchanges between Xinjiang and textile hubs in China's inland grew to support the former's textile industrial development, she got an opportunity in 1977 to study in Suzhou, where some of the country's best and most beautiful silk products are made.

The silk engineering school, which later turned into the College of Textile and Clothing Engineering of Soochow University, started to offer professional support for Xinjiang's silk industry in the 1950s. It even set up specific classes to teach students from Xinjiang.

Arkinnisa, the only student from Xinjiang in her class, spent three years studying the production of different kinds of silk.

"The study experience has changed my life, not only improving professional knowledge and skills but also harvesting friendship with many classmates and locals," Arkinnisa said.

After three years of study, Arkinnisa went back to the silk company in Hotan and rose to be a senior textile engineer thanks to her expertise. Nearly 100 silk products were produced in the company's prime, she said.

In 1988, Arkinnisa took 40 Xinjiang students to the college to study for three years. "They later became the backbone of silk production in Hotan," she said.

Arkinnisa retired in 2007, and one year later, Atlas silk production became a national intangible cultural heritage.

The government's support for preserving and promoting the traditional silk production skills has encouraged Arkinnisa to do her part. She taught silk-making skills at some vocational schools and offered technical consultation to those in need.

Atlas silk production gathered pace after 2008. There are over 50 companies or cooperatives producing Atlas silk products in Jiya Town. Jiya Liren Atlas Silk Co., Ltd., the largest of its kind in Xinjiang, has become a national tourism destination by showcasing the whole traditional process of making Atlas silk.

Arkinnisa, who revisited her alma mater in 2015, plans to open a silk company in Hotan producing a variety of silk. "My bond with silk is long and solid. I'd like to keep the 'Silk Road' extending." Enditem

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