China and the Silk Road

China and the Silk Road

The History of the caravan route, whose name is connected still today with one of the most precious fabrics of the world, goes back to over 5000 years. At that time, long before the foundation of Rome, and long before Marco Polo put his feet on the Silk Road, the Chinese began to produce silk for the first time. The precious material won from the Cocoons of the silkworm moth did fascinate the people far beyond the borders of China already at these times. In the Roman Empire, they measured the value of silk in terms of gold. The Silk Road did nevertheless exist at that time particularly for military and political purposes.

Simultaneously with Alexander the Great and the expansion of the Roman Empire, the contemporary tendencies strived for penetrating into the Asian area. The Silk Road gained increasingly of importance during the 10th century BC.

More and more “Barbarians” intruded into the world of the Chinese. They were fascinated by materials, land and skills, and were convinced that they needed to be conquered by them. However, the contact with the west did not solely result in wars of conquest. Commercial and diplomatic relationships developed and made the Silk Road one of the most important trade connections between Asia and Rome.

China opened its roads in order to be able to transport silk over the Eurasian continent. It entered into alliances and diplomatic relationships not just with Europe, but also and predominantly with the neighboring Asian tribes. The network of caravan roads, which connected central Asia with the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, became densely meshed.

The route of the Silk Road had its point of origin in Xian. It led into the north over the Great Wall of China in direction to Dunhuang, where it divided into three different directions, leading either to Rome, to the Black Sea, or up to New Delhi.

The route led the caravans through deserts, oasis and snow-covered mountains. Camels transported silk, jade, ceramics, spices, iron, gold, glass and many more other things. Especially religions profited from the route in that they reached various countries on this way.

So, Buddhism moved from India to China and Christianity too did disseminate over the Silk Road eastwards. Tradesmen, missionaries, pilgrims, and a lot of bandits too used this route, which got its name actually not before the 19th century, where it was given by the German Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen. However, nature and the threat of muggings made waterways soon to a transport medium that was essentially more secure and faster, despite the presence of pirates. Ships were soon considered more efficient and better, so that they gradually superseded the camel caravans.

Nevertheless, even at beginning of the 20th century, the trade route still had its purpose. Then, it served mainly as travelling road for Europeans on their expeditions towards the Orient, and it became also a spy-route between Russia and the British Colonies.
Today, the former splendor of the Silk Road lies to a great extent buried under layers of desert sand, with exception of a few parts that were reconstructed mainly as attraction for tourists. Its former importance can merely be guessed at.

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