Thousands of years ago, China’s beautiful legendary empress, Hsi-ling Shih, sat with her ladies in waiting, sipping tea under the wide-spreading branches of a mulberry tree. The mulberry leaves rippled lightly in the spring breeze.
Hsi-ling was enjoying the warm sun when suddenly something shiny caught her eye. A sunlight illuminated a small creature on one of the tree’s lower branches. And what a strange sight it was! One long strand of a shiny thread oozed from a white worms lower lip.
Hsi-ling watched in wonder as the worm wrapped the thread around and around itself. She looked further and realized that the whole tree was covered with white worms wrapping themselves in long, shiny threads.
All day the curious empress watched the amazing sight. When evening fell she returned to the palace. Haunted by the mysterious scene, Hsi-ling found that sleep came slowly that night. She wondered if the tiny worms would be winding and wrapping when sunlight filled the morning sky.
When the sun’s first rays appeared in the east, Hsi-ling hurried her ladies outside. The fascinating creatures were still winding and wrapping. For three days Hsi-ling watched the worms at work. For three nights she dreamed about the mysterious little spinners.
On the fourth day Hsi-ling searched every tree. Her ladies looked high and low, but the worms were nowhere in sight. In their place creamy white cocoons, shimmering in the sunlight, hung on every branch. Hsi-ling dashed to the tree and fetched a cocoon. She turned it over and over in her hands. She ran her fingertips around it and was amazed to feel circles of thin, sticky thread.
Then she did something unexpected. Hsi-ling dropped the cocoon in her tea.
Why she did this no one knows. Maybe it was an accident. Perhaps she only wanted to wash off the stickiness. Possibly a sudden insight came over the curious Hsi-ling that made her do something so strange. Whatever the reason, once in the hot tea, the smooth thread began to unravel.