Silk Road Blends Civil­i­sa­tions

Beijing (English) - - CON­TENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Weix­ing, Li Yi, Zhou Gang, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld, Roberta Raine

The Silk Road is an an­cient net­work of trade routes that con­nects East and West. For thou­sands of years, it was along this route that friendly eco­nomic and cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions took place be­tween China and Cen­tral Asia, West Asia and Europe.

The Silk Road is an an­cient net­work of trade routes that con­nect East and West. For thou­sands of years, it was along this route that friendly eco­nomic and cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions took place be­tween China and Cen­tral Asia, West Asia and Europe. In the desert in China’s Western Re­gions and on the south­east coast of China, cul­tural ex­changes oc­curred along the an­cient land Silk Road and mar­itime Silk Road to pro­mote peace and de­vel­op­ment.

To­day, by build­ing the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st-cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, the spirit of peace and co­op­er­a­tion, open­ness and in­clu­sive­ness, mu­tual learn­ing and mu­tual ben­e­fit that are rep­re­sented by the his­tor­i­cal Silk Road are be­ing pro­moted again.

From Xi’an to Sa­mar­qand

The his­tor­i­cal Silk Road started in Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) in the east, and ex­tended through Gansu, Ningxia, Qing­hai, Xin­jiang, the Pamirs, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and other re­gions all the way to the east coast of the Mediter­ranean Sea (present-day Rome). It had a to­tal length of some 7,000 kilo­me­tres, in­clud­ing 4,000 kilo­me­tres in China.

It was an artery that con­nected dif­fer­ent parts of Asia for the pur­pose of trade, but was also an im­por­tant route that con­nected the cul­tures of East and West.

The Dis­cov­ery and Ex­pan­sion of the Land Silk Road

The Silk Road was opened up for trade by the var­i­ous coun­tries along it. Be­fore the 11th cen­tury, the cen­tre of trade in the world was the Mediter­ranean Sea area, and ex­ten­sive trade was con­ducted be­tween city-states along the coast of the Mediter­ranean Sea and China. In par­tic­u­lar, after the ex­pe­di­tion of Alexan­der the Great into Asia and the rise of the Ro­man Em­pire in the fourth cen­tury BC, Euro­peans had great de­mand for Chi­nese com­modi­ties, es­pe­cially silk, and wanted to find a land trade route to reach China. This need was, by chance, iden­ti­fied by Qin mer­chant Wushi Luo to­wards the end of the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC).

Wushi Luo was a cat­tle and sheep dealer in the state of Qin (221–206 BC). In 216 BC, Wushi ob­tained a batch of silk from the Qin govern­ment and traded it for cat­tle and sheep with the chief of his tribe, who traded the silk for gold with the Yuezhi and Saka peo­ple in the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, who traded the gold for goods from Cen­tral Asians, West Asians and the Ro­mans. The Yuezhi and Saka peo­ple, who were no­madic herders, thus acted as the ear­li­est silk deal­ers with the peo­ple of the Cen­tral Plains and Western Re­gions.

While mak­ing an in­spec­tion tour in Yun­zhong Pre­fec­ture, the first em­peror of the Qin dy­nasty, Qin Shi Huang (reign: 246–209 BC), learned that Wushi Luo had made his for­tune by sell­ing silk and there­fore saw enor­mous busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in this trade. To ex­change silk for gold to fi­nance the con­struc­tion of the Great Wall, his mau­soleum and other projects, the em­peror pro­moted silk trade.

How­ever, the rise of the Xiongnu tribe 77 years later made it im­pos­si­ble for the Yuezhi and Saka, who ex­changed goods for silk, to travel east, and the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 220) had to ex­pel the Xiongnu to se­cure the silk trade route. There­fore, in 139 BC, Em­peror Wu of Han (reign: 140–86 BC) sent diplo­mat Zhang Qian (164–113 BC) on mis­sions to the Western Re­gions to seek an al­liance with the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu.

Zhang Qian's first mis­sion to the Western Re­gions lasted for 13 years, dur­ing which time he learnt about the ge­og­ra­phy, prod­ucts and cus­toms of the Western Re­gions, there­fore pro­vid­ing in­dis­pens­able in­for­ma­tion for the Han Dy­nasty to open a traf­fic artery lead­ing to Cen­tral Asia, con­nect­ing East and West. In 119 BC, Zhang Qian be­gan his se­cond mis­sion to the Western Re­gions, which lasted for five years and helped open up a traf­fic route be­tween the Han Dy­nasty and the Western Re­gions.

Later, the Western Han govern­ment es­tab­lished four pre­fec­tures in Hexi (present­day Gansu Prov­ince) and four pro­tec­torates in the Western Re­gions on the only roads to present-day Xin­jiang, Cen­tral Asia and West Asia, thereby putting traf­fic and trade on the Silk Road un­der state ad­min­is­tra­tion. From then on, en­voys and mer­chants from dif­fer­ent coun­tries trav­elled on this trade route that con­nected the Cen­tral Plains, the Western Re­gions, the Arab world and the Per­sian Gulf. To­day's Silk Road, start­ing in Xi'an and ex­tend­ing through Gansu and Xin­jiang to Cen­tral and West Asia, and then to the Mediter­ranean Sea, took cen­turies of ef­forts.

Over the course of more than 2,000 years, the use of the an­cient Silk Road ceased sev­eral times. How­ever, the im­por­tance of the land Silk Road did not de­cline un­til the 15th and 16th cen­turies, when the mar­itime Silk Road arose.

Pic­turesque Land­scapes along the Silk Road

The ar­eas the Silk Road ran through in­cluded plateaus, moun­tain­ous re­gions, hills, plains and basins. Each had a dif­fer­ent cli­mate, such as a tem­per­ate con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate, a sub­trop­i­cal mon­soon cli­mate, an alpine cli­mate and a sub­arc­tic cli­mate. These cre­ated var­ied nat­u­ral land­scapes of forests, deserts, rivers, oases and snow-capped moun­tains, as well as spe­cial land­forms.

Among these unique land­forms,

yardangs are es­pe­cially eye- catch­ing. The word “yardang” comes from Uygur ori­gins, mean­ing “steep bank.” A yardang is a pro­tu­ber­ance carved from bedrock or any con­sol­i­dated or semi- con­sol­i­dated ma­te­rial by the dual ac­tion of wind abra­sion by dust and sand, and de­fla­tion, which is the re­moval of loose ma­te­rial by wind tur­bu­lence. The Bai­long­dui Yardang is one of the three ma­jor yardang land­scape clus­ters in the Lop Nur area. The an­cient Silk Road ex­tended into Lop Nur and passed through Bai­long­dui, which was the marked route for mer­chants to take be­fore the Tang Dy­nasty (618–907). To­day, yardangs at­tract tourists to Lop Nur.

The Xin­jiang sec­tion of the Silk Road is the long­est sec­tion and the one with the most cul­tural and nat­u­ral re­sources. The Pamirs here, known as the roof of the Asian con­ti­nent, are at the junc­tion of ma­jor moun­tain ranges in South and Cen­tral Asia, such as the Hi­malayan Moun­tain Range, the Karako­rum Moun­tain Range, the Kun­lun Moun­tains, the Tian­shan Moun­tains and the Hindu Kush Moun­tains. The Tian­shan Moun­tains, one of the seven ma­jor moun­tain ranges in the world, ex­tend 1,700 kilo­me­tres in China, cover an area of more than 570,000 square kilo­me­tres, and tra­verse cen­tral Xin­jiang, ac­count­ing for around one-third of the to­tal area of Xin­jiang. In 2013, part of the Tian­shan moun­tain sys­tem called Xin­jiang Tian­shan, which com­prises To­mur, Kala­jun-kuer­den­ing, Bay­in­bu­luke and Bogda, was placed on the World Her­itage List. Tra­di­tion­ally be­lieved to be “the pri­mo­gen­i­tor of moun­tains,” the Kun­lun Moun­tains in Xin­jiang are one of the long­est moun­tain ranges in Cen­tral Asia and an es­sen­tial part of China's western moun­tains.

In ad­di­tion, Xin­jiang is home to such nat­u­ral land­scapes as the Tarim River, Lop Nur, Kongque River, Yarkand River, the Tarim Basin, the Tur­pan-hami Basin and Tak­la­makan Desert, as well as the ru­ins at Jiaohe, Gaochang, Niya and Kash­gar.

On other sec­tions of the Silk Road there are some well-known nat­u­ral won­ders, such as Ming­sha (“echo­ing-sand”) Moun­tain five kilo­me­tres south of Dun­huang in Gansu Prov­ince. Ming­sha Moun­tain is made of fine sand in five colours: red, yel­low, blue, white and black. The ter­rain here is var­ied, and one can see many dif­fer­ent shapes in the sand, like cres­cents, pyra­mids, snakes and fish scales. Walk­ing on the sand, one can hear sounds as light as those pro­duced by bam­boo in­stru­ments or as loud as those made by thun­der­ous drums.

The Yueya (“cres­cent moon”) Spring scenic area is at the north­ern foot of Ming­sha Moun­tain. Known as one of the “Eights Sights of Dun­huang” since the Han Dy­nasty, Yueya Spring is around 100 me­tres long from south to north, and around 25 me­tres from east to west. With a max­i­mum depth of five me­tres, the spring is deeper in the east and shal­lower in the west and is shaped like a cres­cent, hence its name. Pondweed and other veg­e­ta­tion grows in the spring, and there are dense reeds on its south bank. Drift­ing sand sur­rounds but does not fill the spring, which never dries up, cre­at­ing a nat­u­ral won­der.

The Silk Road, with its en­dur­ing charm, still at­tracts tourists from around the world with its nu­mer­ous his­toric sites, pic­turesque nat­u­ral land­scapes and di­verse eth­nic cus­toms.

UN­ESCO World Her­itage Sites along Silk Road

Sec­tions of the Silk Road that link dif­fer­ent coun­tries and con­ti­nents, as well as dif­fer­ent an­cient cul­tures and civil­i­sa­tions, have been des­ig­nated as World Her­itage Sites by UN­ESCO.

In June 2014, UN­ESCO des­ig­nated a 5,000-kilo­me­tre sec­tion of the Silk Road, known as the Routes Net­work of Chang'an– Tian­shan Cor­ri­dor, as a new World Her­itage Site. UN­ESCO ini­ti­ated a study of this site in 1998, and after many years of prepa­ra­tion, in 2013 China, Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and other Cen­tral Asian na­tions sub­mit­ted their ap­pli­ca­tions to UN­ESCO for ap­proval. This route con­sists of 33 sites and cov­ers a to­tal area of 42,680 hectares. It was the first transna­tional nom­i­na­tion sub­mit­ted to UN­ESCO by China and the first such nom­i­na­tion in the world to be placed on the World Her­itage List.

Of the 33 sites, 22 are in China, in­clud­ing seven in Shaanxi Prov­ince: The site of the Weiyang Palace from the Han Dy­nasty; the re­mains of Dam­ing Palace from the Tang Dy­nasty; the Tomb of Zhang Qian, a Chi­nese of­fi­cial and diplo­mat who served as an im­pe­rial en­voy in the se­cond cen­tury BC; the Gi­ant Wild Goose Pagoda, hous­ing su­tras and fig­urines of the Bud­dha that were brought to China from In­dia by the Bud­dhist trans­la­tor and monk Xuan­zang (c. 602–664); the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, hous­ing su­tras that were brought to China from In­dia by em­i­nent Tang monk Yi­jing (635–713); the Xingjiao Tem­ple Pagoda (Xuan­zang's Dagoba); and

the Great Bud­dha Tem­ple Grot­toes in Binx­ian County. Sites in He­nan Prov­ince in­clude the re­mains of Luoyang City from the East­ern Han to North­ern Wei dy­nas­ties (25-534); the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of Dingding Gate in Luoyang City dur­ing the Sui (581–618) and Tang dy­nas­ties; the re­mains of Hangu Pass; and the Shi­hao sec­tion of the Xiao­han an­cient route. In Gansu Prov­ince there is the Mai­jis­han Grot­toes, the Bin­gling Tem­ple Grot­toes, the re­mains of Suoyang city, the site of Yu­men Pass, and the site of Xuan­quanzhi Post­house. And in Xin­jiang the six sites are the Gaochang Ru­ins, the Jiaohe Ru­ins, the Kizil­gaha Bea­con Tower, the Kizil Grot­toes, the Subash Bud­dhist Tem­ple Ru­ins and the Beit­ing Ru­ins.

The Silk Road was a transna­tional achieve­ment. In the transna­tional nom­i­na­tion to UN­ESCO, the eight Silk Road prop­er­ties in Kaza­khstan, namely, the sites of Kay­a­lyk, Tal­gar, Karamer­gen, Ak­tobe, Ku­lan, Ornek, Akyr­tas and Kos­tobe, as well as the city of Suyab (the site of Ak-beshim), the city of Balasagyn (the site of Bu­rana) and Navikat (the site of Kras­naya Rechka) in Kyr­gyzs­tan, were also placed on the World Her­itage List.

Be­sides these lo­ca­tions, there are many other world-fa­mous his­toric sites along the Silk Road, such as the Terra Cotta War­riors from the mau­soleum of the First Qin Em­peror, known as the Eighth Won­der of the World; Fa­men Tem­ple, which houses relics of Shakya­muni Bud­dha; the Mo­gao Caves near Dun­huang, which con­tain some of the finest ex­am­ples of Bud­dhist art; the Mai­jis­han Grot­toes, which con­tain over 7,200 Bud­dhist sculp­tures and over 1,000 square me­tres of mu­rals; Ji­ayu Pass, where the Silk Road and the Great Wall joined; re­mains of bea­con tow­ers from the Han Dy­nasty; Taer Tem­ple, a cen­tre of Ti­betan Bud­dhism in north­west China; and the ru­ins of Gaochang, an im­por­tant town along the Silk Road.

Nu­mer­ous traces of an­cient civil­i­sa­tions have also been left in other coun­tries along the Silk Road. In Uzbek­istan alone, there are Tashkent, one of the old­est cities of Cen­tral Asia; Sa­markand, the old­est city in Cen­tral Asia, which Alexan­der the Great highly praised; and Bukhara, a cen­tre of Is­lamic cul­ture.

There are many other his­toric sites along the Silk Road that have not yet been des­ig­nated as UN­ESCO World Her­itage Sites, as well as nu­mer­ous arte­facts. They wit­nessed the past, sup­port the work of re­searchers and schol­ars, and are ideal tourist desti­na­tions.

A Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Artery Con­nect­ing East and West

The Silk Road tra­verses the Eurasian con­ti­nent ge­o­graph­i­cally, but it has an un­usual sig­nif­i­cance for world cul­ture, be­cause its east and west ends are the sources of East­ern and Western civil­i­sa­tions. Like ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude, they weave to­gether China, Egypt, In­dia, Greece and Me­sopotamia. In an­cient times, when com­mu­ni­ca­tion and traf­fic were not so de­vel­oped, the Silk Road was the chan­nel through which the na­tions at both ends got to know the other's strange world, and was the main artery for con­tact be­tween East and West.

China has al­ways been a large agri­cul­tural coun­try, and re­ceiv­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing plants from for­eign coun­tries was a source of great pride for an­cient Chi­nese peo­ple. Through the Silk Road, new va­ri­eties of plants from Cen­tral and West Asia, like grapes, al­falfa, pome­gran­ate, red or­chids, wal­nuts, peas, cu­cum­ber, olives and oth­ers suc­ces­sively en­tered China, where they took root and bore fruit. Asia and Europe also ex­ported a va­ri­ety of rare birds and an­i­mals through the Silk Road to China. Ferghana horses, camels, lions, rhi­noc­eros and pea­cocks, which peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with to­day, were all im­ported along the Silk Road from the Western Re­gions and Cen­tral Asia into China's Cen­tral Plains.

Ac­cord­ing to records from Chi­nese his­tory, many pre­cious ob­jects were im­ported into China through the Silk Road, such as coral, mer­cury and am­ber from present-day Rome; agate and crys­tal from Cen­tral Asia; and di­a­monds, tulips, shells and beads from South Asia and In­dia. The in­tro­duc­tion of glass and glaze, which had a great im­pact on an­cient China, not only en­riched the daily lives of Chi­nese peo­ple, but also di­rectly con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of China's porce­lain in­dus­try.

The in­tro­duc­tion of these an­i­mals, plants and prod­ucts not only greatly im­proved the eco­nomic lives of peo­ple all over China, but also had ei­ther a di­rect or in­di­rect im­pact

on the de­vel­op­ment of China's agri­cul­ture, an­i­mal hus­bandry and hand­i­crafts. While these prod­ucts were be­ing im­ported into China, China also in­tro­duced its own prod­ucts and some of its ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies to other parts of Asia and Europe, which played a sig­nif­i­cant role in pro­mot­ing the so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of var­i­ous coun­tries in Asia and Europe.

The west­ward in­tro­duc­tion of China's silk and silk pro­duc­tion tech­nol­ogy was an im­por­tant part of the East-west eco­nomic ex­change that took place along the Silk Road. After Zhang Qian went to the Western Re­gions as an im­pe­rial en­voy, Chi­nese cav­alry and smelt­ing tech­nol­ogy was trans­ferred along the Silk Road to the West. Paper­mak­ing, print­ing and gun­pow­der, which are among China's world-fa­mous four ma­jor in­ven­tions, were all in­tro­duced through the Silk Road to the West. Their west­ward spread had played an im­por­tant role in the eco­nomic and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment of Asia and Europe. Also through this road, the whole world be­gan to en­joy ser­i­cul­ture, gold and sil­ver man­u­fac­tur­ing, steel mak­ing, wellsink­ing tech­nol­ogy and other tech­nolo­gies that the Chi­nese peo­ple pos­sessed. With the open­ing of the Silk Road, as­tron­omy, medicine and mu­sic were also con­tin­u­ously in­tro­duced from China to the West.

In the mean­time, as Chi­nese cul­ture was pass­ing to the West through the Silk Road, the cul­tures of other parts of Asia and Europe also con­tin­ued to en­ter China. In the process of the east­ward spread of Eurasian cul­ture, ac­ro­bat­ics, mu­sic and dance were most prom­i­nent. These arts had a mul­ti­tude of names and were rich in con­tent, hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on an­cient Chi­nese cul­ture.

Dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, am­bas­sadors and stu­dents came to China from over­seas and scat­tered in all di­rec­tions, en­gag­ing in cul­tural ex­change. The arts of the Western Re­gions, which also spread to the Cen­tral Plains through the Silk Road, greatly en­riched tra­di­tional Chi­nese arts. The in­tro­duc­tion of dif­fer­ent kinds of art, dif­fer­ent forms of art, and artis­tic thought all had an im­pact on the cul­ture of the Cen­tral Plains. Western cul­ture and art merged with in­dige­nous Chi­nese art to form unique artis­tic and cul­tural cre­ations.

The an­cient Silk Road was a sym­bol of China's open­ing up. In this trade chan­nel, peo­ple not only ex­changed goods, tech­nol­ogy, life, art and other as­pects of their cul­tures— they also ex­changed thoughts. The Silk Road was a meet­ing place for re­li­gious ideas and cul­tural ex­change. Bud­dhism and Hin­duism from In­dia, Is­lam from the Mid­dle East, Zoroas­tri­an­ism, Nesto­ri­an­ism and Manichaeism from West Asia, Tao­ism and Con­fu­cian phi­los­o­phy from the Cen­tral Plains, Shaman­ism and other be­lief sys­tems all de­vel­oped here, con­sti­tut­ing a unique land­scape in the his­tory of world reli­gion. Ab­sorb­ing thoughts from around the world, the Silk Road be­came a nat­u­ral mu­seum of re­li­gious cul­ture.

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that most of the great in­ven­tions and schools of thought in the an­cient world that are of great sig­nif­i­cance first spread to the world along the Silk Road.

From Quanzhou to Rome

The Mar­itime Silk Road was more than one ship­ping route for trade, and traded more than just silk and silk prod­ucts. In­stead, it is a gen­eral term for var­i­ous ship­ping routes from the east, south and North Amer­ica. The maiden voy­age of the Mar­itime Silk Road was launched some 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. Since then, his­tory has wit­nessed the rise and fall of suc­ces­sive dy­nas­ties along the Mar­itime Silk Road, as well as com­mer­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cul­tural ex­changes be­tween dif­fer­ent coun­tries at dif­fer­ent times.

In the mid­dle and later pe­ri­ods of the Tang Dy­nasty, the Mar­itime Silk Road grad­u­ally took the place of the land Silk Road to be­come the main chan­nel for trade be­tween China and other coun­tries and re­gions. The ships set off from three ma­jor ports in China—quanzhou, Guangzhou and Ningbo—for key ship­ping ports in South­east Asia, South Asia and Ara­bia, reach­ing as far as the east­ern coast of Africa. These ships de­parted China with porce­lain and re­turned with spices from other coun­tries. They charted the mar­itime routes through which China con­ducted po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural ex­changes with other coun­tries and re­gions in an­cient times. Tech­no­log­i­cal De­vel­op­ment along the Mar­itime Silk Road

The mar­itime Silk Road ex­tended from the coastal ports in an­cient China to ports in the fol­low­ing three di­rec­tions: The Korea Penin­sula and Ja­pan, South­east Asian coun­tries, and coun­tries along the coast of East Africa via South Asia and Ara­bia.

The Mar­itime Silk Road dates back to the Han Dy­nasty. Dur­ing the Qin and Han dy­nas­ties, the first two feu­dal dy­nas­ties, so­cial sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment were seen as the most cru­cial as­pects of uni­fy­ing the coun­try. At that time, ship­build­ing tech­nol­ogy ex­pe­ri­enced un­prece­dented de­vel­op­ment. As the nav­i­ga­tion routes were un­blocked along the coastal re­gions, China pos­sessed fleets of ships that could reach Ja­pan, as well as ships that could reach as far as the south­ern tip of the In­dian Penin­sula via the Strait of Malacca. It was based on these routes that the first ocean-go­ing route in the his­tory of China, and even in the world, came into be­ing: the mar­itime Silk Road, ex­tend­ing from the South China Sea to the In­dian Ocean.

The ef­forts of Em­peror Wu in the Western Han Dy­nasty made it pos­si­ble for China to open im­por­tant nav­i­ga­tion routes along the coastal re­gions from north to south and routes lead­ing from China to Korea and Ja­pan. With the de­vel­op­ment of ship­build­ing and nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy in an­cient China, the mar­itime Silk Road ush­ered in a pe­riod of pros­per­ous de­vel­op­ment of trade in the Sui, Tang, Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dy­nas­ties. In par­tic­u­lar, China es­tab­lished nine ma­jor ad­min­is­tra­tive agen­cies for com­mer­cial ships in coastal cities dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty, and Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Ningbo be­came three ma­jor trade ports at that time.

In the process of ex­plor­ing and de­vel­op­ing the mar­itime Silk Road, these three ma­jor ports played an ex­tremely im­por­tant role. Of these, Guangzhou is the only ma­jor port that has con­tin­ued to thrive for 2,000 years of Chi­nese his­tory. It be­came a ma­jor port on the mar­itime Silk Road as early as the 230s. By us­ing the ad­van­ta­geous con­di­tions of mar­itime traf­fic and trans­porta­tion, Guangzhou be­came the cra­dle of China's for­eign trade.

Quanzhou was the largest port in the world dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, as it had favourable ge­o­graph­i­cal con­di­tions for be­com­ing a ma­jor port. Mainly lo­cated in south Fu­jian, it borders the vast East China Sea in the east, ad­joins huge moun­tains in the north, west and south, and abuts the Tai­wan Strait, cre­at­ing an ideal nat­u­ral har­bour. In ad­di­tion, Quanzhou had fer­tile land and a wide va­ri­ety of prod­ucts. Thus, by the end of the Tang Dy­nasty and the pe­riod of the Five Dy­nas­ties and Ten King­doms (907–960), the the city's ship­build­ing in­dus­try was al­ready well de­vel­oped.

Ningbo has also been a ma­jor har­bour in south­east China since an­cient times. The Yong River, which has a vast sur­face of water and stable riverbed, flows through Ningbo into the East China Sea. Ningbo has in­land nav­i­ga­tion routes ex­tend­ing in all di­rec­tions. Due to its flat ter­rain and fer­tile land, Ningbo also had the suit­able ge­o­graph­i­cal con­di­tions for de­vel­op­ing a har­bour city.

The great­est diplo­matic events in the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) were the seven voy­ages to the western seas by the ex­plorer and diplo­mat Zheng He (1371–1433). Start­ing from the coastal re­gions in south­east China, Zheng He com­manded ships to travel through the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the In­dian Ocean, and the Ara­bian Sea un­til they reached East Africa and Europe. The Chi­nese prod­ucts on board were taken to these desti­na­tions, pro­mot­ing trade and cul­tural and tech­no­log­i­cal ex­changes be­tween China and the coun­tries along the mar­itime Silk Road. At that time, this route had al­ready be­come China's main chan­nel for in­ter­na­tional ex­change.

Later, in the Ming and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, the govern­ment in­sti­tuted a pol­icy of ban­ning mar­itime trade. How­ever, such a pol­icy failed to block the trade be­tween China and the coun­tries along the mar­itime Silk Road. The an­cient trade chan­nel still played its in­her­ent and im­por­tant role of pro­mot­ing trade and cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and other coun­tries and re­gions.

Flour­ish­ing Trade along the Mar­itime Silk Road

These sea­ports served as the con­duit by which eco­nomic, cul­tural, sci­en­tific, tech­no­log­i­cal and re­li­gious ex­changes were con­ducted and ideas were com­mu­ni­cated be­tween East and West. The cul­tural legacy of the mar­itime Silk Road is rep­re­sented by the ru­ins of the sea­ports at coastal cities such as Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Ningbo and Nan­jing. Many his­tor­i­cal re­minders of the de­vel­op­ment of the mar­itime Silk Road can still be seen in these port cities.

Quanzhou was one of the im­por­tant points of de­par­ture for the mar­itime Silk Road in an­cient China. It has pre­served many valu­able his­tor­i­cal sites re­lated to this route and has cre­ated a mar­itime Silk Road cul­ture around such sites. An­cient build­ings, in­clud­ing the East­ern Pagoda, the Western Pagoda, Luoyang Bridge and An­ping Bridge, re­flect the bril­liant cul­ture of that pe­riod with their im­pos­ing forms and rich con­no­ta­tions. Re­li­gious sites, in­clud­ing Qingjing Tem­ple, Ling­shan Holy Tomb and the Statue of Lao Tzu, demon­strate vis­ually and silently the cul­tural di­ver­sity of Quanzhou. The an­cient ships built in the Song Dy­nasty, the Qifeng stone carv­ings at Ji­uri Moun­tain, the tablet in­scrip­tions about Zheng He's voy­ages to the western seas, and other his­tor­i­cal relics, all bear wit­ness to the pros­per­ous eco­nomic, trade and cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and other coun­tries in the past. One thou­sand years later, these cul­tural lega­cies still clearly rep­re­sent the style of the mar­itime Silk Road.

In Jiangsu Prov­ince, many relics of the cities and har­bours rel­e­vant to the trade, cul­tural ex­change and marine ad­min­is­tra­tion of the mar­itime Silk Road still ex­ist. For ex­am­ple, there are his­tor­i­cal sites such as the Stone City in Nan­jing, which served as the cap­i­tal for six dy­nas­ties and was an im­por­tant gate­way for China to con­duct in­ter­na­tional ex­changes; the his­tor­i­cal site of Yangzhou City, which ex­pe­ri­enced pros­per­ity as a city of in­ter­na­tional trade dur­ing the Tang and Song dy­nas­ties; and the stone in­scrip­tions made dur­ing the Xin Dy­nasty (AD 9–23) as bound­ary mark­ers in Dong­hai and Langya pre­fec­tures in Lianyun­gang City, which re­veal an aware­ness of marine ad­min­is­tra­tion in an­cient China, and are the only ones of their kind found in China. Other his­tor­i­cal sites re­flect dif­fer­ent as­pects of the his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion and the de­vel­op­ment of an­cient China in ad­min­is­trat­ing over­seas traf­fic and trade and the wor­ship of sea gods. These his­tor­i­cal sites in­clude Tian­fei Palace in Li­uhe, the his­tor­i­cal site of Huangsipu

in Zhangji­a­gang, the his­tor­i­cal site of Longx­ing Tem­ple at Kong­wang Hill, and the in­scrip­tions on cliff­sides at the Dragon Cave in Lianyun­gang.

Nan­jing was the cap­i­tal city in the early Ming Dy­nasty and it was right here that Zheng He's voy­ages to the western seas be­gan. Zheng set off from here with his fleet and came ashore on his re­turn trip, and he col­lected all the goods, ma­te­ri­als and peo­ple he needed for his voy­ages here. Nan­jing was also the cen­tre for China to con­duct friendly con­tacts with South­east Asian coun­tries. There are many his­tor­i­cal re­mains of Zheng He's seven voy­ages in Jiangsu, in­clud­ing the re­mains of the Longjiang Ship­yard; the Tomb of Zheng He; the re­mains of Bao'en Tem­ple in Nan­jing; the his­tor­i­cal site of the tomb of Hong Bao, who was the as­sis­tant to Zheng He; the his­tor­i­cal site of Tian­fei Palace at Li­uhe, the point of de­par­ture for the fleet un­der the com­mand of Zheng He; the stele of Tian­fei Palace; the his­tor­i­cal site of Jing­hai Tem­ple; the relics of Jingjue Is­lamic Tem­ple; and the tomb for the King of Brunei (Ne­gara Brunei Darus­salam), who un­for­tu­nately passed away dur­ing his visit to Nan­jing.

In 2016, the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage for­mally des­ig­nated Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Ningbo and Nan­jing to jointly pro­mote the work of ap­ply­ing for the sta­tus of world her­itage sites for the new Mar­itime Silk Road. It fi­nally made it clear that 31 her­itage sites in eight cities (Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Nan­jing, Zhangzhou, Pu­tian, Lishui and Jiang­men) would be listed as the first sites ap­ply­ing for the sta­tus of world her­itage for the Mar­itime Silk Road. The wreck of the Nan­hai No.1 ship in Yangjiang City in Guangzhou Prov­ince was also des­ig­nated a her­itage site. Quanzhou ranks the first in terms of the num­ber of sites to ap­ply for the sta­tus of world her­itage, with 14 sites listed in the first batch of ap­pli­ca­tions.

The re­mains of an­cient civil­i­sa­tions can be found every­where along the mar­itime Silk Road. Out­side of China, there are Angkor Wat in Cam­bo­dia; the Taj Ma­hal, one of the most well­known his­tor­i­cal sites in In­dia; Borobudur in In­done­sia; Malacca City in Malaysia; the his­toric City of Vi­gan and the baroque churches in the Philip­pines; the his­toric town of Sukhothai and the Ban Chi­ang Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Site in Thai­land; the Ci­tadel of the Ho Dy­nasty and Hoi An An­cient Town in Viet­nam; the Pyu An­cient Cities in Myan­mar; the an­cient city of Luang Pra­bang and the Cham­pasak Cul­tural Land­scape in Laos, and oth­ers. The wis­dom of hu­mans finds its ex­pres­sion every­where along the Mar­itime Silk Road.

Sup­ply­ing Trade along the Mar­itime Silk Road

Eco­nomic and trade be­tween the coun­tries in the East and the West along the Mar­itime Silk Road en­riched the econ­omy of these coun­tries, en­abling them to share ma­te­rial achieve­ments. With China's an­cient civil­i­sa­tion, Chi­nese prod­ucts have al­ways en­joyed pop­u­lar­ity in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. In trade, the struc­ture of im­ported and ex­ported com­modi­ties has changed through­out time.

Since the end of the East­ern Han Dy­nasty (AD 25–220), throngs of peo­ple moved from the north to south­ern China. The pop­u­la­tion in re­gions south of the Yangtze River soon sky­rock­eted; agri­cul­ture de­vel­oped; and the hand­i­craft in­dus­try in­clud­ing silk, porce­lain and met­als pros­pered, pro­vid­ing a com­mer­cial ba­sis for the ex­pan­sion of over­seas trade. Prior to the Tang Dy­nasty, silk and gold were China's main ex­ports. Silk was one of the great in­ven­tions made by Chi­nese an­ces­tors. It be­came one of the most trea­sured lux­u­ries in the Ro­man Em­pire, equal in value to gold after it was spread to the West in the fourth cen­tury BC. Com­modi­ties im­ported into China mainly in­cluded lux­ury goods such as spice, pearls, jade, rhi­noc­eros horns, ivory, hawks­bill tur­tle, coloured glaze, glasses, agate and pre­cious stone.

Porce­lain was a trea­sure of­fered by Chi­nese to the rest of the world. Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the con­struc­tion of the Grand Canal dur­ing the Sui Dy­nasty, Jiangsu boasted ad­van­tages in in­land water trans­port and be­came the main trans­fer sta­tion for ex­port­ing goods in bulk such as porce­lain and tea leaves, and im­port­ing and sell­ing com­modi­ties like spices and glaze. Since the Tang Dy­nasty, porce­lain has be­come pop­u­lar in over­seas mar­kets. Yangzhou left be­hind a bril­liant chap­ter in marine trade and cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the Tang Dy­nasty. It be­came an im­por­tant city of de­par­ture for the “Mar­itime Silk Road” and a well-known har­bour of the East. Since the mid-1970s, many porce­lain pieces have been un­earthed in the an­cient Tangcheng in­side Yangzhou. These sam­ples en­com­passed prod­ucts of al­most all ma­jor kilns in both south and north

China in an­cient times. Of those that were ex­ca­vated, the num­ber of those pro­duced at the Chang­sha Kiln in Hu­nan and sold to In­dia and Ara­bian re­gions was next only to that of the porce­lains di­rectly sold from the Chang­sha Kiln. In the Song and Yuan dy­nas­ties, porce­lain be­came the com­mod­ity ex­ported most, giv­ing the Mar­itime Silk Road the al­ter­na­tive name “Mar­itime Road of Porce­lain”.

As spices were also ac­counted for a large part of ex­ported com­modi­ties, the Mar­itime Silk Road was also called the “Mar­itime Road of Aro­matic Spices”, As well as the “Road of Tea Leaves” for its tea leaves ex­ported from China to Europe at the end of the Ming Dy­nasty. At the end of this pe­riod, China im­ported wool fab­ric, cot­ton goods, clocks, per­fume, leather, fur prod­ucts and metal from the West in ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional lo­cal goods from South­east Asia.

Prior to 1840, Guangzhou's govern­ment granted fran­chises to trade firms en­gaged in for­eign trade. The trade firms were named the “thir­teen fac­to­ries” but the num­ber of these firms wasn't fixed at 13. In the Qing Dy­nasty when China's iso­la­tion pol­icy from the rest of the world was car­ried out, it was stip­u­lated that Guangzhou was the only city al­lowed to con­duct for­eign trade. As the only har­bour “open to busi­ness with for­eign coun­tries”, the “thir­teen fac­to­ries” fur­ther de­vel­oped, and rep­re­sented a peak de­vel­op­ment of the Mar­itime Silk Road. Al­though the “thir­teen fac­to­ries” thrived for a cer­tain pe­riod of time, it grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared later due to dif­fer­ent rea­sons, yet a leg­end still ex­ists about a scene where the “thir­teen fac­to­ries were filled with money.”

With com­mer­cial trade along the Mar­itime Silk Road, China and the coun­tries along the Mar­itime Silk Road sup­plied each other with ne­ces­si­ties. Such a link not only in­creased friendly re­la­tions be­tween coun­tries, but also en­abled peo­ple in us­ing com­modi­ties. This changed to a cer­tain ex­tent the life habits and cul­ture of peo­ple liv­ing in dif­fer­ent neigh­bour­hoods, and pro­moted the eco­nomic pros­per­ity, so­cial progress and civil­i­sa­tion of dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

As early as the pe­riod of the Three King­doms (AD 220–280), King­dom Wu dis­patched en­voys Zhu Ying and Kang Tai to visit what is to­day's Cam­bo­dia. At the sug­ges­tion of Kang Tai, lo­cals in Cam­bo­dia be­gan us­ing the straight skirt made of Chi­nese silk. It was recorded in Slap­ping the Ta­ble in Amaze­ment First Col­lec­tion, a novel first pub­lished in 1628, a story about how a small or­ange pro­duced in south China was trans­ported from China along the Mar­itime Silk Road to Western Europe where it was set­tled and saved the lives of thou­sands of Euro­pean sailors in the 17th cen­tury. To­day, or­anges are still called “Chi­nese ap­ples” by the Dutch and Ger­mans. In the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, sail­boats from China fre­quently vis­ited South­east Asia and sailed the In­dian Ocean. At that time, over­seas Chi­nese who left China through the Mar­itime Silk Road were en­gaged in re­claim­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing waste­land in these re­gions, pro­cess­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duce, and ex­plor­ing mines, play­ing a cru­cial role in these re­gions.

Eco­nomic ex­changes and trade be­tween dif­fer­ent coun­tries com­ple­mented each other on the Mar­itime Silk Road. The cul­tures of dif­fer­ent coun­tries blended well with each other.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Cul­tural Ex­changes

The Mar­itime Silk Road is not only a traf­fic and trade route, but also a road of cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion link­ing cen­tres of ma­jor world civil­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing China, In­dia, Ara­bia and Mediter­ranean re­gions. Along this an­cient sea route, mer­chants and shipown­ers re­layed live cin­ders of East­ern and the Western civil­i­sa­tions, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for dif­fer­ent val­ues and civil­i­sa­tions to meet and em­brace each other.

His­tor­i­cally, the coun­tries in the South China Sea dis­patched en­voys to reach China along the Mar­itime Silk Road. In the dy­nas­ties fol­low­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, ad­min­is­tra­tion agen­cies were es­tab­lished for busi­ness ships in Guangzhou to take charge of for­eign trade with coun­tries with which China es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions, and built post-houses to re­ceive for­eign en­voys. It was an im­por­tant func­tion for of­fi­cials along coastal re­gions to han­dle diplo­matic af­fairs and take charge of over­seas trade. In the pe­riod be­tween 1265 and 1274 dur­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty (1127–1279), Puhaddin, an Ara­bic man in the me­dieval pe­riod came to Yangzhou to spread tra­di­tional Is­lamic virtues of sup­port­ing the weak and help­ing the poor. Puhaddin made a large cir­cle of friends, so he en­joyed sup­port of lo­cal celebri­ties and re­ceived cour­tesy from the of­fi­cial­dom. Puhaddin presided over the con­struc­tion of the well-known Crane Tem­ple,

which later be­came one of the four ma­jor mosques in China's south-east­ern coastal re­gions. Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, Ibn Bat­tuta, a renowned Mo­roc­can trav­eller came to China by trav­el­ling by sea, whose Trav­els of Ibn Bat­tuta amazed the Is­lamic world. Marco Polo, an Ital­ian trav­eller, led a diplo­matic corps to es­cort a Mon­go­lian princess on her way to Per­sia to be mar­ried. Trav­els of Marco Polo also amazed the Chris­tian world. In the early Ming Dy­nasty, as the cap­i­tal city of a uni­fied coun­try, Nan­jing be­came the cen­tre for friendly ex­changes and cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween China and coun­tries along the Mar­itime Silk Road.

At the or­der of Em­peror Yon­gle (reign: 1403–1425) of the Ming Dy­nasty, Zheng He em­barked on seven voy­ages to the Western Seas. This heroic feat was re­garded as sym­bol­is­ing the Mar­itime Silk Road en­ter­ing a pros­per­ous pe­riod, and a paragon of peace­ful ex­changes be­tween an­cient China and coun­tries along the Mar­itime Silk Road. In the 28 years since 1405, Zheng He led a fleet of more than 200 trea­sure ships to nav­i­gate the seas with the ad­vanced nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy at that time, and vis­ited var­i­ous coun­tries to con­duct friendly diplo­macy. By de­vel­op­ing China's over­seas trade and dis­sem­i­nat­ing Chi­nese cul­ture, the fleet led by Zheng He ex­plored the marine un­der­tak­ing and paved the way for nav­i­ga­tion routes be­tween Asia and Africa.

It was through these friendly ex­changes that Chi­nese tex­tile prod­ucts, pa­per-mak­ing tech­nol­ogy, print­ing tech­nol­ogy, gun­pow­der, com­passes, porce­lain-mak­ing tech­nol­ogy and other fine arts were spread to over­seas ar­eas along the Mar­itime Silk Road, and ex­erted their in­flu­ence upon sci­en­tific, tech­no­log­i­cal and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment to coun­tries and re­gions neigh­bour­ing China and western coun­tries in mod­ern times.

Fol­low­ing the East­ern Han Dy­nasty, with progress in China's nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy and nav­i­ga­tion ex­pe­ri­ence, regimes in south China ex­plored routes for con­duct­ing mar­itime trade and cul­tural ex­changes. Diplo­matic en­voys, mer­chants, and monks from dif­fer­ent coun­tries of­ten vis­ited each other. The Mar­itime Silk Road was not only the “road of busi­ness and trade” for coun­tries along the road to ex­change goods, but also the “road of peace­ful di­a­logue” for friendly con­tacts be­tween China and other coun­tries, as well as the “road for cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

The in­creas­ing preva­lence of Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­ity and Hin­duism were also at­trib­uted to the Mar­itime Silk Road. Ever since Nan­jing be­came the cap­i­tal city of the East­ern Jin Dy­nasty (AD 317–420), with ad­vanced so­cioe­co­nomic con­di­tions and con­ve­nient traf­fic and trans­porta­tion con­di­tions, re­gions along the Yangtze River rep­re­sented by Nan­jing be­came not only the main cul­tural cen­tre of China but also cen­tres of cul­tural ex­change be­tween China and other coun­tries. Nan­jing, Yangzhou and Suzhou in Jiangsu be­came im­por­tant places for in­tro­duc­ing Bud­dhist cul­ture from other coun­tries to China and the ma­jor places for dis­sem­i­nat­ing the Bud­dhist cul­ture from China to Ja­pan and Korea. Fax­ian (AD 334–420), a monk in the East­ern Jin Dy­nasty, was China's first monk who went over­seas to ac­quire Bud­dhist scrip­tures and re­turned to China suc­cess­fully. He de­parted from Chang'an (to­day's Xi'an) on his way to In­dia to ac­quire Bud­dhist scrip­tures along the Silk Road; then boarded a boat at Sri Lanka and em­barked on his way back to China along the Mar­itime Silk Road. He landed at Shan­dong and fi­nally re­turned to Daochang Tem­ple, Jiankang. It was at Daochang Tem­ple that Fax­ian trans­lated most of the Bud­dhist scrip­tures into Chi­nese, which ex­erted im­pact upon Bud­dhism's pros­per­ity in the pe­riod of the Six Dy­nas­ties (AD 222–589) and the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese cul­ture. Jianzhen (AD 688–763), an­other em­i­nent monk in the Tang Dy­nasty, suc­ceeded in vis­it­ing Ja­pan after six at­tempts, and took cul­tural achieve­ments of the Tang Dy­nasty in reli­gion, lit­er­a­ture, art, medicine and ar­chi­tec­ture to Ja­pan, mak­ing out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to eco­nomic and cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and Ja­pan.

Friendly ex­changes like these were too nu­mer­ous to be cited. The Mar­itime Silk Road links “pearls” scat­tered on the vast Pa­cific Ocean and In­dian Ocean.

The Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st-cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road are built for in­te­grat­ing de­vel­op­ment strate­gies of the coun­tries through strength­en­ing in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, so as to re­alise the mu­tual ad­van­tages, pro­mote a friendly in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety in the new cen­tury, and con­tinue writ­ing a mov­ing chap­ter eu­lo­gis­ing friendly ex­changes be­tween peo­ple of dif­fer­ent coun­tries and their mu­tual ben­e­fit.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, the east­ern start of the an­cient Silk Road

Pamir Plateau, a main area along the Silk Road

Sa­mar­qand, a city on the an­cient Silk Road in Uzbek­istan

A model ship at Nan­jing Longjiang Baochuan Plant Ru­ins Park, man­u­fac­tured by im­i­tat­ing the ves­sels Zheng He used dur­ing his west­ward voy­ages

An­cient Malacca, where Zheng He and his ves­sels ar­rived

Re­mains of An­cient Rome

“Jianzhen Crosses the Ocean to Ja­pan”

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