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Historic Silk Road

The Silk Road was also called "Silu" in Chinese. It was a general name for the ancient strategic transportation channel which started from China and passed through Central Asia, West Asia, Africa and Europe. In the 19th century, when the name of Silk Road was first used by a German geographer, it just included the land road from China's Xinjiang to central Asia. Later it was expanded gradually and reached West Asia, Europe and Africa. It took in land and water routes. It is not only an important transportation route connecting the ancient world, but also a synonym for economic and cultural exchanges between the Western world and the oriental world.

The Silk Road was an international passage with historical significance. The ancient Silk Road helped to integrated the old Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabian, ancient Greek and Roman cultures and promoted the exchange of the Western and Oriental civilizations. Half of the Silk Road, which winded along between Xi'an to the east bank of the Mediterranean, was located in Xinjiang. Xinjiang was a place where the ancient Western and Oriental cultures met and many famous historical people visited. Lots of historical relics and items of rare cultural interest were left in Xinjiang.

China was the earliest country to raise silkworms and produce silk. The outstanding diplomat Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty (206BC—220AD) traveled the road between 138BC to 139BC. He led a diplomatic mission and took gold and silk products to Loulan (now Ruoqiang), Weili, Huqa, Kashi, Hotan, Wusum (now Ili River valley), Dawan, Kangju, Dayuesi and a number of other regions in Xinjiang. His assistant visited Anxi (now Iran) India and a number of other countries. These countries and regions in turn also sent diplomatic missions to China, which brought a busy trade to Xinjiang. Ancient central China's silk products, iron ware, gold and platinum, bronze mirror, lacquerwar and bamboo work, medicine, farming and metallurgy techniques were introduced to Xiyu (ancient Xinjiang), India and Europe. Alfalfa, grape, flax, pomegranate, walnut, cucumber, lion, peacock, elephant, camel and house and some other plants and animals were taken to central China at that time.

In 73AD, the Han government sent a diplomatic mission of 36 people led by Ban Chao to Xiyu and his assistant Gan Ying arrived at Daqin (ancient Rome), on the Persian Gulf (the present Arabian Gulf), which ensured a functional Silk Road and further expanded the are to the road. Inida's famous monk also came to central China's Henan through Pakistan and Afghanistan, Silk Road in 147 AD and 401 AD respectively, to translate Buddhist books and enroll thousands of disciples. Chinese high-ranking monk Fa Xian in the Jin Dynasty (265—420) and Xuan Zang in the Tang Dynasty (618—907 respectively visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dozens of other countries and districts and did missionary work in these countries along the Silk Road. Fa Xian's "Note on Buddhist Country" and Xuan Zang's "Notes about Tang's Xiyu" are important works of research in the history of ancient Xiyu, India and the Silk Road.

From 1222 to 1223, Yilu Chucai, a famous poet in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the Taoist patriarch Qiu Chuji toured the Silk Road and vividly described the local customs and folk culture in Xinjiang and Central Asia. Italy's famous adventurer Marco Polo came to Yuan's capital Dadu (now Beijing) along the Silk Road in 1275. In his journal notes, he gave a detailed description about the local custom and culture in Pamirs, Kashi, Shache and Hotan.

On the Silk Road, many passes, castles, grotto caves, tombs, posthouses and beacon towers were well maintained. So far, there are 14 grottoes and 990 caved found in Xinjiang. Among these grotto caves, there are four large ones including the LarKirtz Aqianfo grottoes. The sculpture and murals in these grottoes integrate Chinese, Indian and Persian culture and feature special artistic styles. Apart from Buddhist art work, these grottoes also reflect the production and living condition of ancient people.

On the ancient Silk Road, one of the fascinating places is the ancient castle in Loulan. It is located northwest of Lop Nor, a strategic pass of the ancient Silk Road. The castle has a rich history with prosperous trade and busy tourism. Now only the relics of the castle surrounded by desert are left. The most well-preserved relics are the castles in Turpan's Gaochang and Jiaohe. An imperial palace, temples and some other high building can still be found here. More than 100 mummies were unearthed in the ancient Astala group tombs around the castles. Lots of written materials dating from before the Tang Dynasty as well as fine silk and cotton products, various coins, painted pottery sculpture and food were also found in the castles. Among the mummies, there is a military officer with strong figure and smart face and a young girl are in all kinds of shapes and postures. Many secrets about the Silk Road still remain unknown and await further research.

(Source: West China---Xinjiang)

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