The Silk Road
Silk route of the so called silk route is deemed as the world’s oldest and one of the most important historically overland trade route which was a network of trade routes that was core to the cultural interaction between regions in the Asian continent and connected the west and east from china to Mediterranean Sea (Fedorenko 1). The Silk Road got its name from the trade that was being carried out by the Chinese of silk worms and manufacturing silk clothing’s during the Han dynasty that existed between 207 and 220 CE (Ong 32). Silk, a luxurious fabric was exclusively made and produced in china until in the 7th century when the secret of silkworm rearing and clothing manufacture was revealed to the west. The presence of silk in china attracted central Asian merchants who traded the commodity for horses, cattle, fur, hides and other luxuries including ivory and jade. Central Asian sections of the trade routes were increased in the 114 BCE through the exploration and missions undertaken by the Zhang Qian, a Chinese imperial envoy during the Han dynasty as the Chinese took extra interest of their trade products thereby extending the Great Wall of China to ensure maximum protection of the trade route (Evans 237). The Silk Road was a key factor in the development of civilization in china, Persia, Europe, Africa as well as in the Indian subcontinent as it opened long distance political and economic relations between these civilizations (Andrei 108-12). Though china traded mainly on silk, other products as well were traded and through this route, religion, philosophies, technologies and diseases were also travelled along the Silk Road. Other new products were introduced in the region including cucumber, walnuts, alfalfa and pomegranates among others and new skills of how to make grape into wines were introduced thus enriching the Chinese ancient civilization. Apart from the economic benefit of the route, it also served as a cultural exchange platform among those who traded along its networks. Main traders who benefited from the silk road included the Chinese who were the hosts, the Arabs, Indians, Persians, the Somalis and many other including the Greeks, romans, Syrians, the Bengalis as well as the Sogdians who traded between the 5th to 8th century among others. Changan-tiashan corridor found along the Silk Road was designed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO in June 2014. Silk Road has impacted the lives and economy of china greatly and for the purpose of this study, an in-depth analysis of the Silk Road including the geographical patterns and the expected future outlook will be discussed.
The need to trade between civilizations led to the development of the shipping technology together with the pack animals increased the capacity for people to carry heavy roads over long distances. This enabled the exchange of culture to take lace rapidly as well as faster development of trade. Additionally, the place Asia glass land steppes provided fertile grazing lands, water and an easy passage for the caravans and this enabled the merchants to travel far from the shore of the pacific to Africa and deep into Europe without trespassing on other peoples agricultural land which would have aroused hostility.
During the Han dynasty, caravans were often attacked by few central Asian tribes and to ensure the safety of the Silk Road trade, the Han government sent an envoy to build relationship under General Zhang Qi an in 200-114BC. The capital of western ham dynasty that existed between 206 and 220AD was Changan who reached Loulan, Qiuzi and yuatian where trade relations were established, though they were later abandoned for unknown reasons with Loulan now being covered with desert. Following these trade relations, trade took place safely along the route and silk from china was able to be carried to the other parts of the world.
In the tang dynasty (618-917), Tuque tribe controlled the road and it rallied with other small western states against the government to disrupt trade. Tand dynasty later defeated the Tuque tribe and reopened the route thereby promoting trade with the west. The Chinese monk Xuanzang travelled along the Silk Road between 602 and 664 from changan (modern Xian) through the Hexi corridor, Hami and Turpan and went westward to indis. It was believed that these people were brutal but the monk found them warm and good people. This made him change his attitude towards them leading to the enhanced relationship with them, but by 760AD, the government lost control of the Silk Road along the western region thereby ceasing trade along the silk route.
The Yuan dynasty that existed between 1271 and 1368 revived the Silk Road and china became largely dependent on silk trade. Genghis Khan unified china and built a large empire after conquering the small states around. Between 1254 and 1324, Marco polo travelled by the Silk Road while passing by Dadu, the yuan capital (modern Beijing) and issued a decree that protected the merchants on their trade along the route. Preferential treatment was also accorded to the merchants leading to trade booms in slaves, jewelry, medicines and perfumes. As time went by, overland trading became more dangerous thereby necessitating travel by sea. This led to trade decline along the Silk Road, though china continued to trade with the Russian. By the end of the 14th century, the trade along the route had significantly reduced.
In the west, silk was considered to be more precious than gold and it is believed that only roman emperor Heliogabalus who ruled between 218 and 222 was supposed to wear a dress made of pure silk. This made the Chinese people be referred to as the silk people and Changan, the silk city. The collapse of Han dynasty in the 3rd century reduced the trade between the east and the west, and it is by this time that two Christian monks were able to discover the secret of silk production. This made emperor Justinian to send secret agents to china to steal silk worms and also to extort and bribe the silk experts to give the secrets. They were successful in their undertaking and from then onwards, Mediterranean was able to produce silk. The collapse of the Han dynasty did not end the Silk Road but because of West’s interest in the region for gunpowder, gums and spices, the reinstatement of the route by the Tang dynasty reestablished china and the long road became the road to spread Christianity
Cultures brought by Silk Road
The existence of the longest and the most important historically known route brought about the exchange of cultures between different civilizations. In fact, from the 2dn civilization to the 15th century, vast civilization among the Chinese, Indians, Greece, Persians and romans were exchanged along this route thereby forming a cultural bridge between the Asian and the Europeans. Apart from the economic and political exchanges that took place along the route, religions from other parts of the world especially the west were introduced (Elverskog 318-24). These religions that were introduced and bestowed upon the Chinese included Buddhism, Manichaeism, Neostriansm as well as Islam. Buddhism was introduced in the first century BC into Yetian (currently Hetian) and from there, it spread the western region but it was until the eastern Han dynasty that Buddhism infiltrated Chinas inland (Hansen 3-6). Later, many monks facilitated the development of Buddhism including Zhu Shixing in the three kingdoms, the F Xian and Kumrajva in the Jin dynasty as well as Xuan Zang in the tang dynasty among others in the tang dynasty.
Zoroastrianism spread in to the western region between the 5th and 1st century BC and was once the state religion in Persia, but after the arrival of the Arab empire, it was forced to move east (Whitfield 118-9). It developed rapidly during the northern and southern dynasties as well as during the tang dynasty. After the song dynasty, the religion had almost become extinct with its practice being carried on by UiGurs and Tajiks. Manicheism comprises of the ideas of the Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity as well as the ancient Greeks (gdfdf). It was a popular religion among the common Chinese citizens though with its great influence, it was prohibited during the Tang dynasty. Nestorianism being a school of the Syrian Christianity had dogmata’s and doctrines from the traditional Christianity and was introduced in china in 635 through the Silk Road and encouraged by emperor Taizhong who ordered people to build a place (temple) to practice the religion. It was called the Persian temple, the roman temple and the Daqin temple. During the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) however, it began to decline and its followers could only be found in several parts of the western region, the Mongolian grassland and the border areas. Islam was introduced in china in the 7thAD by Arab Muslims who travelled to china by the Silk Road and through the sea route as the spread Islam. In the tang dynasty, Guangdong and Guangzhou provinces were strongholds of Islamic believers having profound effect on the spiritual belief of the Chinese people.
Technological achievements through the Silk Road
Cultural exchanges between the west and china also offered common progress and mutual benefits. The Chinese four great inventions in paper making, printing, the gun powder and the compass as well as the art of silk worm breeding and spinning were transferred to the west thereby enhancing and speeding the development of the whole world. By 206Bc and 220AD, during the Han dynasty, the Chinese had monopoly in silk trading and it was not until the 12th century that the technology was known to the west Europe.
War broke between the Tang dynasty and the Arabs leading to their defeat in 750 and as a result, some Chinese were taken as prisoners and among them were paper making workmen who took the expertise to the Arab countries. The paper printing technology had been invented in east Asia and the European travelers who passed by china brought the technology on their en-route to Europe leading to the inventing of a letter press printing in 1444 by Gutenberg that printed the bible using the technique obtained through the silk road. The gunpowder was used by the Mongolians to conquer new territories. At the same time, Karez a technology of water storage was introduced and so was the kung-Fu, music dance as well as the acrobatics from central Asia spread into china.
Demise of the silk route
The Mongolian empire encouraged trade between the silk route, but the splits between different Khans that started in 1262 led to the destabilization of trade on the route (Elisseef 138). The resurgence of the Chinese nationalism that led to local rebellion in the south led to the replacement of the Yuan dynasty with the Ming dynasty. Mongol disintegrated giving rise to the revival of Islam together with the isolation policy that was introduced by the Ming dynasty led to entry barriers between the east and the west. Nevertheless, as indicated earlier, the demise of the route was attributed by the development of sea route which was seen to be safer and better transporting goods over water than on land. This was prompted by tribal politics and the presence of middlemen who needed a share on the trade. The sea route was however faced with weather problems and pirates. The isolationist attitude in the later kingdom did not encourage trading along the road. It was only after the 19th century that western powers began making comeback through inroads. The Qing dynasty overcame the Dzungar people thereby restoring china to the previous Hans dynasty state, having full control of the western regions. Despite this fact, as the trade with the west reduced, so was the activity along the route, leaving only watered oasis.
The present Silk Road has been gaining importance through the reopening of the route. The new central Asia had been relying on Russia to get food crops but the trade with china is fulfilling this demand. The aspect of a socialist economy and the increased movement of freedom is encouraging trade along the route. Regular journey are being made from china to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Clear ridge investments 1). The railway construction has also contributed greatly to enlightening the area by opening the road to new republics. The presence of underneath minerals has also made the Silk Road area important.
Future outlook of the Silk Road
Reports that have been published indicates that there is renewed effort to redevelop along the Silk Road (Mizuho 14). The joint development of an economic belt along the Silk Road as well as a maritime silk road of the 21st century is a future hope for the history of the route (Sheng para ). The belt and the road are Chinese initiatives that are intended to deepen reform as well as advance the neighborhood diplomacy. With the two initiatives, the spirit of economic development along the Silk Road is bound to continue (Bloomberg brief 1-3). The road seen as a symbol of peace and development continues to harbor international and regional landscape as a result of the trade that existed in the past. It is therefore intended to create a new material and cultural wealth for the Chinese and the entire world. Again, despite the strife’s, tribal politics and isolationism that existed then the redevelopment along the silk road is likely to enhance regional corporation through improved business environment, unimpeded flow of production as well as improved distribution (Xijun para). The belt and road initiatives is also expected to strengthen people’s culture across their religion, strata and a renewed sense of friendship The belt and road initiatives is also aimed at bringing tangible benefits to the people through regional economic integration, harmonization through dialogue and economic development. This will be done through policy formulation at the same time, the link being the road will help china and her neighbors to improve cross border transportation network connecting Asia and Europe and the rest of the world through addressing the existing connectivity inadequacies (Clear ridge investments 1). Trade and investment will also be facilitated through the setting. This will lead to the elimination of trade barriers, promotion of economic circulation and improvements thus improving trade and investment in the region (EY knowledge 3-5). Currency will also be enhanced through settlements in local currencies thereby strengthening the bilateral and multilateral corporation (Fedorenko 12-3). The financial arms will also lead to regional development as transaction costs will be brought down.
In 2011, the United States intention to integrate with central Asian countries is assumed to favor political stability in the region especially after it withdrew from Afghanistan (Fedorenko 3). The Silk Road would enable steady energy supply, consolidate the influence of Beijing as well as promote infrastructure development in the area. The US intends to form partnership in the development of the new Silk Road and help rebuild the war torn countries around.
The various issues likely to face the new silk road includes local opposition as depicted by locals putting pressure leading to the stalling of $20billion railway complaining that they were not consulted. The mountain terrain is also likely to challenge development of the new infrastructure since the mountain is steep. The presence of militias on the mountain sides is also a threat to the success of the new Silk Road. This leads to the question of security in the area. The development of these project may also lead to strife between countries as the water supply would be affected as a result (Fedorenko 14). The Russians and the US have low opinion of each other and this would lead to challenges of integrating all countries party to the route as each (Russia and China) compete politically and economically.
Andrei, Liviu C. Money and Market in the Economy of All Times: Another World History of Money and Pre-Money Based Economies. , 2011. Print.
Bloomberg brief. One Belt, One Road: Assessing the economic impact of china’s new silk road. July 2, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.bloombergbriefs.com/content/uploads/sites/2/2015/07/SC_062615-OBOR.pdf
Clear ridge investments. New Silk Road Signals Growth Shift To The East. Institutional perspective. Retrieved on 30/04/2016 from: http://www.clearbridge.com/documents/commentary/New%20Silk%20Road_121014.pdf
Elisseeff, Vadime. The silk roads: Highways of culture and commerce. Berghahn Books, 1998.
Evans, Thammy. Great Wall of China: Beijing & Northern China. Bradt Travel Guides, 2