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Traditional Atlas silk industry revives Xinjiang village

  Tajinisa has dark purple hands, but she is proud of them.

  The indelible dye stains on the 51-year-old craftswoman's hands are proof of her decades of hard work dyeing and weaving Atlas silk, a national intangible cultural heritage.

  She is one of the most skilled Atlas silk masters in Jiya Village in Hotan, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the birthplace 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 (206 BC-220 AD) a princess who came to the region for marriage brought a silkworm cocoon with her. Local resident have since begun to produce silkworms and weave silk.

  The story is echoed by findings in Shanpulu Ancient Tomb and Niya Town Relics. The unearthed silk scraps and weaving tools tell Atlas silk's history, which is as long as that of the Silk Road.

  In Hotan, the manufacturing techniques of the ancient cloth have barely changed over the last 2,000 years.

  Reeling silk, spinning thread, dying and weaving... It takes much more time to produce Atlas silk by hand than producing artificial silk by machine. Even the most skilled hands can only weave three meters a day.

  Due to low output, meager profits, and the impact of the modern textile industry, Atlas silk was previously declining. Many villagers whose families had been weaving for generations turned to other lines of work to make a living.

  To rejuvenate the industry, the local government has been giving out free silk weaving machines and inviting experienced craftspeople to give free training to villagers.

  Fashion designers have also started using the material in their creations, creatively mixing the traditional art and modern techniques and proudly bringing the fabric to the catwalk.

  In recent years, fashion shows featuring Atlas silk have been staged in cities including Urumqi and Beijing.

  Alim Adil, a young Uygur fashion designer, said the Atlas silk is an embodiment of the wisdom and charm of the ethnic group that should be passed on.

  "I believe one day Atlas silk will be seen on the world's stages," he said.

  Tajinisa now works in the biggest Atlas silk company in her village. Besides pattern design and dyeing, she also teaches young workers.

  She said Atlas silk products have become much more diverse nowadays. In addition to clothes, there are also bags, hats, and scarves.

  She earns up to 5,000 yuan (about 800 U.S. dollars) a month, a good income for the area. In 2016, the company had a turnover of 520,000 yuan, and created more than 180 jobs for local residents.

  Atlas silk products have been sold to about 25 countries and regions, attracting merchants from countries including the United States and Germany. The products also became a hit on e-commerce platforms.

  Jiya is home to 6,000 households, 2,400 of which are now working in Atlas silk industry. There are now more than 50 Atlas silk factories, associations, and cooperatives. The silk industry brings over 1,200 yuan of net income per villager annually.