Silk Road: the Most Well-Known Trading Route of Ancient Chinese Civilization

More than 2,000 years ago, Chinese and foreign business people left from the ancient city Chang’an (today’s Xi’an) and sent large numbers of Chinese silk to central and western Asia and countries along the eastern Mediterranean, creating a famous route which crisscrosses the European and Asian Continent with a total length of more than 7,000 kilometers. Later, it was named the “Silk Road” by Ferdinand von Richthofen, an eminent German geographer.

Silk Road

The Silk Road gets its name from Chinese silk trade, a major reason for the connection of trade routes into an extensive transcontinental network. China is the earliest country of sericiculture and filature. From the 138 BC to 119 BC, Zhang Qian, an imperial envoy of West Han Dynasty, opened up this ancient route. He led a delegation with silk and gold to reach the areas in Xinjiang, including Loulan, Kashgar, Hetian and Valley of Yili River, etc. His vice-envoy also reached Iran and India. The countries in these areas also sent envoys to China. The technologies of papermaking and printing, Great Inventions of Ancient China, were introduced into Arabian countries along the Silk Road. In fact, Buddhism spread to China from India because of trade along the Silk Road, similar to the way Islam spread along trans-Saharan routes in medieval West Africa.

The Chinese section of the Silk Road

The Silk Road, connecting ancient Chinese culture, Indian culture, Persian culture, Arab culture, ancient Greek culture and culture of ancient Rome, has played an important role in promoting east-west cultural exchanges and in enhancing China’s exchanges and friendships with foreign countries. The Silk Road has become one of the most famous  tourist route.

The Silk Road stretches more than 4,000 kilometers within China, mainly passing through Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Along the Silk Road, there is a vast land teeming with cultural relics and historical sites, as well as enchanting natural landscapes and strong and colorful national flavor.

Xi’an, a starting point of the Silk Road, is a must place if you want to visit the Silk Road. It is the right place for the exchange and gathering of eastern and western cultures of all ages, and the place where innumerable historical sites and rare cultural relics were left. In the western suburbs of Xi’an is erected a group of large Silk Road camel sculptures. Stretching 51 meters long, the camels are carved out of red granite. They are the longest stone sculptures in China. More than 1,000 years ago this spot was the western gate of Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty. Historical records show that it was the starting point of the Silk Road. Whether camel merchant teams loaded with silks for faraway countries or Persian merchants, they all must pass here. Starting from here and going west along the Silk Road, you can see the ruins of Chang’an City of Han Dynasty, the Maoling Mausoleum, the Tomb of Concubine Yang, the Qianling Mausoleum, the Famen Temple, and other historical sites.

Xi'an Silk Road Sculptures

Out from the Shaanxi boundary and further to the west, the Silk Road crisscrosses the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province and the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang. Along the road, you can visit the Jiayuguan Pass-the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, the Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang (also known as Thousand Buddha Cave)-one of  three noted grottoes in China and also the largest, best preserved and richest treasure house of Buddhist art in the world, the Ancient City of Gaochang– one of the best-preserved ruins of the ancient cities in China, the Heavenly Lake of Tian Shan (Tianchi)– an alpine drift lake shaped in the Quaternary Glacier period, and other famous scenic spots. You can enjoy ethnic groups’ unique customs and flavor in the western regions, as well as the enchanting scenery and vast grassland, desert and snow peaks.

Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu

Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu

Ancient City of Gaochang in Turpan, Xinjiang

Heavenly Lake of Tian Shan (Tianchi) in Xinjiang

Travel Tips:

There are large temperature difference between day and night in the northwest areas, such as Xinjiang and Gansu. You had better bring a spare coat or sweater with you.

At some tourist sites, such as Heavenly Lake, Nanshan Pasturage, and Mingsha Mountain (Singing-Sand Mountain), etc., you may need to ride horse and camel. So, a pair of proper shoes is quite important.

Mingsha Mountain (Singing-Sand Mountain) in Dunhuang, Gansu

The temperature of northwest area is lower than the hinterland, and many areas are high in altitude. Remember to prepare some sunscreens and medicines.

Xinjiang is a minority region, with strong religious consciousness. The Muslim does not eat pork, which is the biggest taboo in their life. Do not bring or discuss the topic of pig, to avoid any misunderstanding.

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