Silk Road refers to an ancient commercial trade route that interlinked Asia, Africa and Europe. Originated form Chang’an (now Xi’an in Shaanxi Province), it passed across Longshan Mountain range, through Hosi Corridor (Gansu Province), via Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass (Gansu Province), and arrived as Xinjiang, then went along Pamir Plateau through Central Asia, Western Asia and Northern Africa and finally reached Africa and Europe. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, Europe and Asia. As it was originally for silk export route in ancient China, the title “Silk Road” was widely recognized.
Origin of the Name “Silk Road”
The term “Silk Road” firstly came from a book China written by German geographer published in 1877, and it was widely recognized afterward. “Zhang Qian went to West Region” in Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-9 A.D.) was a symbol of the beginning of Silk Road. So called “West Regions” generally meant from the west of ancient Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass to the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
In ancient world, China was the earliest country to plant mulberry, breed silkworms and produce silk products. Nowadays China silk product is one of the most important products that china offers to world. The title of Silk Road contains kinds of contribution that Chinese made to world civilization. Silk Road was the key route for economic, political and cultural exchange between the Eastern and Western worlds. Even though silk products were the major trade item from China, many other goods also were traded, such as various culture, technologies and religions, as well as plague (the "Black Death").
The main traders enlivened the ancient Silk Road were the Indian and Bactrian traders, then from the 5th to the 8th century the Sogdian traders, then afterward the Arab and Persian traders.
Silk Road in Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD)
When western Han Dynasty was in a powerful and prosperous period, in order to defeat the Hun (a powerful nomad in ancient China), the Emperor Wu Di (157-87 B.C.) sent Zhang Qian to go Darouzhi (a nomad migrated to Central Asia) to persuade them to join with Han to extirpate the Hun. Zhang Qian set off in 139 B.C. but he was arrested by the Hun and was in prison for ten years. After escaping from the Hun, he went on his journey to West Region, and at last he arrived in Balkh (Afghan now). He went back to Han in 126 B.C. This was the first time in history to send an official mission to West Region. Since then, the Emperor Wu Di began to encourage merchants to do business with merchants from West Region. On the one hand, this measure strengthened the material and cultural exchange between Han and West Region, on the hand, Han Dynasty got a big benefit from customs duty. Han even built government office to protect trades between Han and West Regions. But the Silk Road was interrupted in 16 B.C because of the invasion of the Hun. The Silk Road was reopened after 58 years later. According to historical book, there was Roma diplomatic envoy that met the Emperor of Han Dynasty through Silk Road in 166 A.D. and established embassy.
Silk Road in Tang Dynasty (617-907)
With China entering into flourishing Tang Dynasty, the Silk Road attracted the attention of the emperor of Tang Dynasty. The east lines of Silk Road were open again and many new routes were opened up. Besides, Eastern Rome Empire and Persia (Iran) were relatively stable at this time, the Silk Road once again moved toward peak period.
Unlike Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty controlled the areas of West Regions and Central Asia, and established stable and effective ruling order. Apart from Arabian traders, Indian became an important part of the east section of Silk Road. Relatively speaking, the financial performance of Tang was better than other dynasties in the past, so many kinds of products flowed into China through Silk Road. Commercial trade on Silk Road stimulated greatly Tang people’s desire to consume goods. The Silk Road was not only for products trade, but had cultural exchange gradually, and there were many advanced technology spread to other countries by different way, meanwhile, various religions entered into China. In Tang Dynasty, there were lots of diplomatic envoys and overseas students to study the culture and advanced technology, Japan in particular. In the eighth century, Japan dispatched diplomatic envoy to Tang Dynasty, at the same time, they took back lots of treasures from Tang. Besides, the largest religion Buddhism in Japan also came from Tang spread by Silk Road. A saying goes that Japan was the ending point of Silk Road.
Courses of Silk Road
With a long history of more than 2000 year, Silk Road is divided into four periods, Pre-Qin (before 221 B.C.), Han and Tang (618-907), Song and Yuan (960-1368), and Ming and Qing (1368-1911) dynasties. There were Silk Road on land and Silk Road on sea according different transportation. In addition, Silk Road on land had the differences between southern Silk Road and northern Silk Road.
Southern Silk Road
Although it was not more famous than the northern Silk Road, southern Silk Road also had a history of 2,000 years, especially in the period of Anti-Japan War (1937-1945), the goods and materials supply transports was cut, the Yunnan-Burma railway and Sino-India railway built following the southwest of southern Silk Road became the life line to support the battle's front lines.
Northern Silk Road
Generally speaking, the summary line of Silk Road is from Xi’an in Shaanxi Province or Luoyang in Henan Province, via Hosi Corridor in Gansu Province, through Central Asia, West Asia, to Europe (ancient Rome).
Silk Road formed basically in Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.), which started from Chang’an in the east, via the west of Longshan Mountain to Jincheng (now Lanzhou City), then passed through Hosi Corridor (including Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Dunhuang city in Gansu Province), and went out from Yumenguan Pass or Yangguan Pass, through Yardang to Loulan (ancient town) in Lop Nor district. In Han Dynasty, Loulan (ancient town) was a point of divergence divided into south and north routes, and the north line to the west could pass through Quli (now Korla in Xinjiang), Qiuci (now Kuqa), Gumo (Aksu) to Shule (now Kashgar in Xinjiang). The south line started from Shanshan (Ruoqiang County), via Qiemo County, Jingjue Kingdom (now Niya Ruins in Mingfeng County), Yutian (now Hotan District), Pishan, Shache to Shule counties in Xinjiang. From Shule to the west, surpassed Congling (Pamir Plateau) to Dawan (an ancient country, now Fergana Basin), and then went on to the west, the next stop could be Balkh (Afghan), Lite (an ancient country, now in Uzbekistan), Anxi (an ancient country in Iran), and the longest destination was Lijian (Egypt, the east area of Roman Empire). Another route linked Pishan to southwest across Xuandu (Darrelle in Pakistan), via Jibin (Kabul in Afghan), Alexandria Prophthasia (an ancient country, Kandahar in Afghan), and to the southwest arrived in Tiaozhi (an ancient country in Iraq now). If traders wanted to arrived at Karachi in Pakistani from Jibin to the south, it also could reach Persia (Iran) and Rome and etc by sea. This was the main artery of ancient Silk Road formed after Han Dynasty.
In the 10th century, the Northern Song Dynasty opened a new way “Qinghai Route” in order to avoid the territory of Western Xia Dynasty (1038-1227).
Silk Road on Sea
After Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty (157-87 B.C.), merchants always made trade by sea, the vital communication line on sea was open, and this was famous Silk Road on sea in history. Silk Road on sea was the important communication line linked China and other countries in the world. China famed pottery and porcelain exported all over the world by this way, and the spice and medicines in the West entered into China as the same. The main shipping line of Silk Road on sea started from China to South China Sea. There was another line that from China to the east, and arrived in Korean Peninsula and Japan. After Song Dynasty, the economical center of China was transferred to the south, the shipping lines from Guangzhou, Hangzhou and etc were developed, the nearer destinations to the Southeast Asia and further to east coast of Africa, and all of these lines were called as “Silk Road on Sea”.
Famous Tourism Routes
Silk Road was a main artery linked politic, economy, culture and thought in ancient the East and the West. It is over 7,000 kilometers long totally, including 4,000 kilometers in China, which passes through Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces. There are many famous scenic spots along the Silk Road, like Terracotta Army, Famen Temple, Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, Lake Qinghaihu, Loulan ruins, Lop Nor, Yandan Landform, and Heavenly Pool and so on, which attract visitors at home and abroad.
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