The Silk Road winds its way through numerous lands and deserts, colorfully stretching its way through the civilizations of Asia, Europe and Africa. It was through the Silk Road that the four great ancient Chinese inventions of papermaking, gunpowder, the compass and printing were diffused across the world. Likewise, breathtakingly splendid silk production, Chinese tea and porcelain were also spread throughout the globe. The exchanges of material culture along went both ways, with Europe also exporting a wide range of goods and plants to meet the demands of the Chinese market.
The German geographer F. Von Richtofen coined the term "Silk Road" in 1877. It refers to the major trade route linking China with Southwestern and Central Asia and India. Starting during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), this route was used to transport a variety of trade goods, of which silk was the most important. The Silk Road originates in the Chinese interior, passes through Northwestern China, and continues west across Asia. Providing links with ancient overland routes to Africa and Europe, the Silk Road paved the way for extensive political, economic, and cultural exchanges among widely separated regions and ethnic groups.China was the first country in the ancient world to cultivate the mulberry plant, raise silkworms, and produce silk items. To the present day, silk remains one of China"s greatest offerings to the peoples of the world, surpassing every other Chinese product in the scope of its distribution. Although trade in various other Chinese products was concentrated along roads known the "Jade Road," "Gem Road," "Buddhist Road," and "Porcelain Road," in actuality these routes represented only individual segments of the Silk Road. In the end, this great artery of commerce and exchange will always be known for its most important product, silk.
The History of the Silk Road
When it comes to the Silk Road, Zhang Qian, a renowned diplomat and explorer, could in no way be neglected who pioneered the opening of the Silk Road. Zhang Qian was first sent to establish diplomatic relations with the Western Regions by the great emperor Han Wudi (reigned 140-87 BC), braving great hardship and danger to investigate the politics and geography of these new lands. A second mission followed, during which he made his way even farther west. On his two journeys, Zhang Qian explored a road of trade relations to the far west, the Silk Road.
Throughout the history, the Silk Road saw unceasing changes to the routes in accordance with the evolution of geography, politics and religion. The Silk Road took on it shape today around the Han dynasties (BC 206-260 AD) with the West Han"s capital Chang"an (today芒鈧劉s Xi"an) or East Han"s capital Luoyang (capital of the middle Henan Province) as its starting point. Then it went west through Jincheng (today"s Lanzhou, capital of western Gansu Province), Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Dunhuang, four ancient cities along the Gansu Hexi Corridor to the ancient state of Loulan. The road did not stop at Loulan; it went on to the farther west through today"s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to countries far away from China like Afghanistan, Iran and east of the Roman Empire.