Development and Vicissitudes of China's Ancient Maritime Silk Road

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China's ancient Maritime Silk Road enjoys a history of more than 2,000 years. It first served as a seaway connecting southwest China and south India via Southeast Asia during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (156 BC- 87 BC). During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the focus of foreign trade changed from the land to the sea. Later, in the Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368), Arab merchants were encouraged to conduct trade in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province and Quanzhou, Fujian Province. Therefore, the route extended from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf. Along with the arrival of European colonists during the middle period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), individual overseas trade opened in Zhangzhou, Fujian. To maintain its colonial rule in the Philippines, Spain opened a carrack trade route from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico, through which silk products shipped to Manila by the Chinese merchant navy were transferred to the American continent via the Pacific Ocean, and to Europe via the Atlantic. Furthermore, Portuguese colonists and the Dutch East India Company trafficked China's raw silk and silk fabrics to Japan, and also to Europe via return vessels. These practices greatly changed the shape of China's ancient Maritime Silk Road, transforming it from a regional trade route to a global trade route connecting East and West.


LI, Jinming

(Professor, South China Sea Institute, Xiamen University)


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