When General Zhang Qian first passed through chains of treacherous hills and boundless sand dunes to the Western Regions in Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 BC), in his deep heart soared a sole goal. However strenuous to achieve the Emperor’s mission, however long he was enslaved by Xiongnu tribe, nothing could dampen him to continue his journey for thousand miles, to ensure alliance against Xiongnu. Following his diplomatic envoys along the route, commercial relations between China and Central Asia, and hence a transcontinental network, known as Silk Road, blossomed at the end of the 2nd century BC.
Zhang Qian’s explorations of Central Asia emboldened traders to engage in the ancient world in commerce, stretching from Chang’an, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, to Persia, Constantinople and Rome. With an unceasing flow of commercial and cultural influences for more than a thousand-year, the Silk Road was divided into two routes. In the northern part, it traversed Hexi Corridor (Gansu province today), across Turpan and Urumqi, the north of Tianshan Mountain, and then all the way westward. Under the blazing sun, merchants were still bringing camels with precious goods, ranging from silk, beautiful ceramics, richly-flavoured spices to crystal-clear jade. Since the demand kept on surging as years passed, all these became irreplaceable jewels from the eyes of Arabic and Persian in the bazaar.
These intercontinental networks, linking majority of populations on this globe, transported more than merely huge wealth and multifarious commodities, however. The constant movement and the coexistence of ethnic groups also expedited the transference of intellectual knowledge, novel ideas, and cultural exchanges. It was also where lapis lazuli, a blue stone with golden specks for painting and powder, circulated; and also where Buddhism was spread to China and monks made pilgrimages to India to collect sacred texts. Wide variety of Eurasian arts, crafts and literature all coloured citizens’ life along the glory of the Silk Road.
Even in nowadays, “Silk Road” continues to stir keen curiosity and lingering imaginations. As an adventurous traveller to look for something truly unconventional, I realise this discovery towards the Silk Road in China was more than fruitful. I found myself sliding down a sand dune, riding a camel around an enchanting oasis, marvelling at numerous art masterpieces inside the Mogao Cave, climbing up to the beige towers of the Great Wall for a panoramic view. Or sometimes, I visited the traditional yurt, tasting delicious lamb kebabs and sipping bowls of milk tea, to name but a few. Follow me in the upcoming travel posts about this mysterious West. ♦