Tuesday, January 4, 2011 6:50:07 PM
Marco Polo stayed for 17 years in the East before he returned to Italy. There are many stories from many people throughout the long-past time. From nobles to beggars and prisoners, all kinds of people once had gone to their destinations by this way. But why do people try so hard, traced back to 138 BC, more than 2,000 years ago and until now, to travel from one side of the world to the other? It used to take 4 years, just travelled from China to India in the past.
The historical, the legendary, the four thousand-mile journey from Asia to Europe, the most ancient-famous route the world ever had.
THE BIRTH OF SILK ROAD
These route can be traced back to Han Dynasty, from 138 BC, Emperor Wu dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions with the diplomatic missions, although finally Zhang Qian returned to China without succeeding in establishing this alliance. As many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC, initiating the development of the Silk Road.
In 97 AD the Chinese general Ban Chao went as far west as the Caspian Sea with 70,000 men and established direct military contacts with the Parthian Empire, also dispatching an envoy to Rome. Several Roman embassies to China soon followed from 166 AD. Good exchanges such as Chinese silk, African ivory, and Roman incense increase the contacts between the East and West. Contacts with the Kushan Empire led to the introduction of Buddhism to China from India in the first century.
In the history of the Silk Road, many renowed people left their footprints on this most historically important route, including eminent diplomats, generals, great monks and Marco Polo. The routes encompassed about four thousand miles of varying terrain and waterways, well travelled over a two thousand year.
Silk Road is a trading route across the Eurasia in the history, through which the most influential goods freighted to the West was the silk products, hence the name.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen named this route the "Silk Road" (1870), which has been followed to this day.
Many princesses left their familiar hometown and reached to the remote states on a diplomatic mission. Wang Zhaojun (one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history) and Princess Wen Cheng (married with the King of Tibet) made important contributions to the smooth flow of the Silk Road.
Through the Silk Road, the four great inventions of Ancient China, silk, porcelain, tea and jade articles were taken to the West, enlarging China's influences to the Western world ; the characteristic animals and plants in Western countries, such as grape, clover, blood-sweat horse and ostrich, as well as the Buddhism were introduced to China.
The scope of the goods traded along the Silk Road ranged from the exotic to the mundane. Fine silks, the very namesake of the trade lane, satin, spices, perfumes, medicines, jewels, animals and even slaves.
The Silk Road is through Southern Asia traversed by caravan and ocean vessel, and connecting Chang' an, China with Antioch, Syria. Its influence carries over on to Korea and terminates eventually in Japan.
The continental Silk Road diverges into North and South routes as it extends from the commercial centers of North China, the North route passing through the Bulgar-Kypchak zone to Eastern Europe and the Crimean peninsula, and from there across the Black Sea, Marmara Sea and the Balkans to Venice.
The South route passing through Turkestan-Khorasan, through Iran into Mesopotamia and Anatolia, and then through Antioch in Southern Anatolia into the Mediterranean Sea or through the Levant into Egypt and North Africa.
As most of the area was unstable or hostile, due to raids by nomadic tribes and unrest in the established Kingdoms along the route most importantly during dynastic struggles in China and Persia - the route was quite dangerous.
Danger lurked along the East and West routes of the Silk Road. The East route was notorious for numerous bandits, as well as sandstorms and mirages. Lack of oxygen, dizziness, headaches, and harsh weather plagued the travel through the mountainous West route with some of the mountain peaks rising to twenty thousand feet.
The road has witnessed a great number of celebrities in the history.
It was not until the Mongol Conquests of the 13th century CE that the Silk Road was united. The Mongols were actually the most influential in the Silk Road's history. Marco Polo made his historic journey during this time.
In the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), Marco Polo came to China and stayed for 17 years. After he returned to Venice, Marco Polo dictated The Travels Of Marco Polo that was recorded by Rustichello da Pisa in 1298.
When the Mongol Empire collapsed and fragmented, the Silk Road returned to its disconnected state. However the high demand for silk and other goods still existed. This provided strong motivation for European explorers and merchants to search for another way to China, and resulted in the Age of Exploration , the sea route to China, and Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World at the end of the 15th century CE.
MARITIME SILK ROAD
The Maritime Silk Road refers to the route from each port in South China, such as Guangzhou or Quanzhou to the Southeast Asia, India, Arabia or even farther through heading West by boat. With the enhancement in navigation technology and accumulation of seafaring experience, coupled with the advantages of lower transportation cost and larger quantity of freight in marine trading, the Maritime Silk Road replaced the Silk Road on land to become the major passage for communication between the East and the West after the Song and Yuan dynasties.
From its birth before Christ, through the heights of the Tang Dynasty, until its slow demise six to seven hundred years ago, the Silk Road has had a unique role in foreign trade and political relations, stretching far beyond the bounds of Asia itself. It has left its mark on the development of civilizations on both sides of the continent. However, the route has merely fallen into disuse, its story is far from over.
The Silk Road is one of the primary factors that has shaped the world of the past and created the world of today. Without it, many ideas would not have spread throughout Eurasia, and the Europeans would not have embarked on their Age of Discovery and Exploration that propelled them to their position of power.
XUANZANG - An influential Buddhist monk of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Xuanzang's family was very poor and his parents died early, so he became a monk at thirteen years old.
In the early years of the Tang Dynasty, most regions of the Silk Road were under the control of the Turks (a minority in Ancient China), so the government prohibited people from going to the Western Regions. Xuanzang departed stealthily from Chang' an (the present Xian), travelled along the Hexi Corridor and reached Liangzhou (Wuwei in Gansu Province). He escaped the toll-gates at the frontier and arrived in Guazhou (now Anxi in Gansu Province) near the Yumenguan Pass that was at the western end of the Great Wall.
Under the help of a Tartar, he went out of Yumenguan Pass, traversed deserts for a few days, passed through Yiwu (Hami) and reached Gaochang (Turpan). The King of Gaochang respected Xuanzang very much. He sent Xuanzang 25 people and 30 horses. Then Xuanzang continued his west bound journey by crossing the snow-covered Pamir Platean and passing Qiuci (Kuche), Suiye (in Kirghizia), Tashkent and Samarkand. After four years of painstaking travel, he finally reach India.
"PILGRIM TO THE WEST" in the Tang Dynasty : a book Xuanzang and Bian Ji compiled. It recorded geography, people, customs, history, religions, languages and cultures of about 140 countries, which provided precious data for studying history and geography. It was translated into English, Germany, French and Japanese and widely spread. It is the precious document for the research of China and the world cultural exchange, Buddhism history and national history.
ZHANG QIAN - CHINA SILK ROAD PIONEER
During the reign of the Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the Huns (Xiongnu) often intruded into the northern borders of the Han Empire, so the emperor was making preparations to fight against the Huns. When he knew Da Yuezhi (an ancient state in Amu Darya) had a feud with the Huns, because its king was killed by the Huns' Chanyu (the headman of Hunnish tribes) and the head made into a goblet, he decided to unite with this state to combat their common enemy.
In 139 BC, with about 100 people, Zhang Qian departed from Longxi (in Gansu Province). Unfortunately, Zhang Qian and the delegation were captured by the Huns when they reached the Hexi Corridor and detained for ten years as hostage. Finally, they found a chance to flee. They crossed deserts and the Gobi, and went over the snow-covered Pamirs. After about ten days, they arrived in Dawan (in Fergana Basin). Under the help of a Dawan's guide, they went through Kangju (between Balkhash Lake and the Aral Sea) and reached Da Yuezhi.
In 128 BC, Zhang Qian decided to return to Chang' an (the ancient name of Xian). On their return journey, they were captured by the Huns again and detained for more than one year. In 126 BC, Zhang Qian seized the opportunity provided by internal disorder among the Huns. He escaped and reached Chang' an. Although he failed to finish the mission to make a military alliance with Da Yuezhi, he obtained a great deal of knowledge about the people, geography, culture and customs of 36 states in the Western Regions.
- Folk Customs on the Silk Road http://traditions.cultural-china.com
- Marco Polo's Silk Road http://scenery.cultural-china.com
- Famous Travellers on the Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/50History7038.html
- Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/34History358.html
- Maritime Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/34H358H989.html
- Trade and Cross - Cultural Contacts on the Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/34H358H11338.html
- The Birth of Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/34History6972.html
- A Short History of the Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/183History5437.html
- Xuanzang - Famous Traveller on the Silk Road http://history.cultural-china.com/en/50History7056.html
- Zhang Qian - China Silk Road Pioneer http://history.cultural-china.com/en/50History7043.html