About 4,000 years ago the Chinese discovered the secret of the silk cocoon. No one knows exactly how or when this important discovery was made. One story says that a young princess was drinking tea in her garden and watching silkworms spin cocoons. By chance one dropped into her tea and the hot tea made it soft. When the girl tried to take the cocoon out of her tea, it became separated and she pulled out a long silk thread.
The Chinese learned to weave the silk thread into cloth. For 2,000 years they were the only people who knew how to make silk. The Chinese merchants sold silk cloth throughout Asia and Europe and became rich. Silk was so expensive that it was called “King of All Fabrics”.
Everyone wanted to learn how to make silk, but the Chinese kept the secret carefully guarded.
Finally the secret was stolen. In the sixth century, two monks learned about the silkworms and their cocoons. They spent several years in China and finally found a way to take some silkworm eggs out of the country. The monks always carried bamboo canes. One day they hid some eggs in the hollow canes, and walked out of China with them. It is said that the development of the silk industry in other countries came from those few eggs which the monks had carried out of China.