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The Silk Road

China History Map - Silk RoadThe romance and influence of the legendary Silk Road has been a subject of centuries of fascination, from the medieval account of Marco Polos travel to cellist Yo-Yo Mas contemporary Silk Road Project. This vast 7000-mile network of trade routes from China to the Mediterranean existed for almost 2000 years, opening the Far East to European lands. It was a conduit for cultural, economic and technological exchange, representing the earliest form of globalization.

In ancient times, China was referred to by other cultures as the land of silk. Silk production was a closely guarded secret for centuries. The process was an elaborate one, in which filaments were obtained from the cocoons of silkworms, which feed exclusively on mulberry leaves. Some two thousand silkworms are needed to produce a single pound of silk thread. Silk was (and still is) admired as a light, smooth, yet strong fiber that can be dyed bright colors and used for a variety of purposes. It was used as currency from the Zhou through the Tang dynasties and was traded along the famous Silk Road connecting China to markets as far west as Rome.

The two ancient roads which served the pilgrims and traders, and all carriers of merchandise and ideas, were those to which were given the names of Jade Road and Silk Road, according to the precious objects carried over them. The Jade Road, by which these formerly prized stones found in the neighboring rocks of Khotan were exported toward the west, certainly must at all times have been the most diflicult to cross, but was still kept open, and from the history of the Buddhist propaganda between India and China it is known that this gateway of such difficult passage bore an important part in the development of humanity. Many innovations, including gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press, silk, mathematics, ceramic and lacquer crafts, were transferred gradually along the Silk Road, so that the West had no clear idea as to their origins.

In the 2d century BC, the Chinese established a trade route from the Mediterranean Sea to eastern Asia (the Silk Road), which connected the East and the West of the continent during 116 centuries, until it was replaced by ocean trade routes. The Silk Road was an ancient trade route that led across Central Asia's desert to Persia, Byzantium and Rome. The historical Silk Road was a series of trade routes that criss-crossed Eurasia for almost two-thousand years, until about the year 1500 AD. By the 16th century Europe was trading along the Silk Road routes as well. The Silk Road, which directly connected the valleys of the Sir and the Tarim by the beautiful Blue Country of the Ferghana (Tashkend), and by passes at least 13,000 feet high, was comparatively easy and ended in magnificent pasturages, which filled the eastern valleys of the Tian-Shan.

The Silk Road, the longest, oldest and most enduring of the Old Worlds great trading routes, linked ancient China with the Greek and Roman worlds of the Mediterranean and Buddhist India. The Road was not only a highway of commerce on which silk and porcelain were traded for turquoise and glass, but also a path of pilgrimage. Buddhists, Christians and Muslims trod the avenues across the highest mountains on earth and the deadliest deserts, seeking to spread their faiths throughout the world.

Central Asia is a vast region at the crossroads of different habitats, cultures, and trade routes. Little is known about the genetics and the history of the population of this region. This territory is located at the edge of the western Asian empires, crossed by the Silk Road, with long-lasting contacts, with India yet open to the steppes of the north. Several hypotheses could explain the intermediate position of the populations of central Asia between Europe and eastern Asia, but the most plausible would involve extensive levels of admixture between Europeans and eastern Asians in central Asia, possibly enhanced during the Silk Road trade and clearly after the eastern and western Eurasian human groups had diverged. The Silk Road crossed the region, and it could have channeled migration along the east-west axis of Eurasia.

The Silk Road, the all-important trade route between China and Europe, runs through the Hindu Kush. Once used by Alexander the Great in his effort to conquer the known world, the high-altitude passes of the Hindu Kush remain important trade and travel routes. The ancient Silk Road once passed through northern Afghanistan, wending its way near the great Amu Darya River, which now serves as Afghanistans northern boundary. As the traders passed through, they brought not only goods, but also new skills and crafts, such as sericulture (the commercial breeding of silkworms for their silk).

The Silk Road facilitated trade and contact between China and other cultures as far away as Rome. While its name suggests routes over land, Silk Road sea routes were also important for trade and communication. The extent of exchange of art, ideas and innovations between cultural groups trading on the routes is illustrated by the eighth-century Shsin collection of artifacts. Culled by a Japanese emperor, it contains luxury goods from the Mediterranean, Persia, India, Central Asia, China, Korea and Japan.

The Silk Road was also the path along which marauding armies invaded east, west, north and south. Empires were often bounded by the Silk Road and sought to expand beyond it. Central Asia sprawls from the Caspian Sea in the west to central China in the east; the north part of the country borders southern Russia and the south, northern Pakistan. Its history is fascinating including the Great Silk Road, the Timurid Empire under Tamerlane, nomadic inhabitant cultures. The towers at Ghazni, located 85 miles south of Kabul, are among the last vestiges of the great Silk Road empire of the Ghaznavids (10th and 12th centuries AD). Ghazni was renowned as a center of learning and the arts, as well as a seat of conquest.

Historically, the nations of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road. Indian merchants used to trade spices, gems, and textiles, along with ideas and culture, everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the banks of the Bosphorus. Over the centuries, many important scientific and technological innovations migrated to the West along the Silk Road, including gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press, silk, mathematics, ceramic and lacquer crafts. Eastern and Western string, wind and percussion instruments also traveled between regions and had strong influences on one another over time. Among other instruments, the Shsin collection contains lutes from India and Persia. The Persian mizmar, a reed instrument, appears to be an ancestor of the European oboe and clarinet. Cymbals were introduced into China from India, and Chinese gongs made their way to Europe.

Few travelers actually traversed the entire length of this Eurasian trade network. The Silk Road was not in continuous operation throughout its long history; during periods when China had strong centralized governments (Han, Tang, and Mongol), trade flourished. Resources, information and innovations were exchanged between so many cultures over so many hundreds of years that it is now often difficult to identify the origins of numerous traditions that various respective cultures take for granted. In this way, the Silk Road created an intercontinental think tank of human ingenuity. The Silk Road was integral to great civilizations in the past.

The Financial Times reported on 09 July 2018 that 14 percent of 1,674 infrastructure projects in 66 Belt and Road countries have encountered troubles, including public opposition to projects, objections over labor policies and performance delays, citing US consultancy RWR Advisory Group. The report quoted Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a Berlin-based think-tank as saying that "There is a relative disregard for local conditions, country risks and a general lack of transparency."

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that some Belt and Road projects have ran into "temporary difficulties" because some developing countries' economies have been under pressure from rising global trade protectionism and spillover effects of monetary policies in major economies as well as political changes and natural disasters in some countries. Hua further stated that no country has slid into debt crisis because of cooperation with China and that China has not caused any of the so-called debt crises.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2018 23:27:52 ZULU