A letter written about 2,000 years ago and never delivered has provided evidence of China's oldest post office at a historic site near the famous Dunhuang Mogao Grottos along the ancient Silk Road.
The letter written on a piece of silk, 18 cm (7 in) long and 8 cm (3 in) wide, has been found in the Xuanquanzhi Ruins in northwest China's Gansu Province.
The writer of the letter sent his greetings and wishes from the frontier of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) in the remote western region to his friend in an inland area of China.
In the letter, the writer described the hard life in the border area and asked his friend to buy him some goods and send them to Dunhuang.
The letter is so far the best preserved personal letter from the Han Dynasty, according to archaeologists.
The Xuanquanzhi Ruins are located at an important pass of the Silk Road. Ruins of beacon towers built during the Han, Jin and Qing dynasties over more than 1,000 years can still be found near the Xuanquanzhi Ruins today.
The excavation of the ruins was conducted from 1990 to 1992. Their discovery was selected as one of the top ten discoveries in China during the last decade of the 20th century.
Experts have unearthed wooden slips, paper and silk used to document the work of the local postal service, transportation activities, tolls, vehicles and other information that enables them to better understand the history and geography of the Han Dynasty.
Ruins of buildings and stables were also found. Experts say Xuanquanzhi was a comprehensive outpost for the postal service, official order deliveries and reception of guests more than 2,000 years ago.
(People's Daily April 16, 2002)